On Serving Two Vocations

I can't remember in which of the tens of Madeleine L'Engle books I read in my twenties she wrote about her work as a writer and mother as serving two vocations, but the phrase has been seldom from my mind these last weeks and months. When the religious speak of vocation, they are pointing to something distinctive from occupation, something with an element of calling to it, something with a layer of devotion that goes beyond punching a clock.

For instance, no parent I know thinks of that role as an occupation. It's a role so constant that it blurs the line betweeen a state of being and a state of doing. A parent does not cease to be a parent after the children go to bed--one sleeps lightly and snaps awake at the sound of children in the night. Nor does one cease to be a parent after the children are grown with separate residences of their own. Just ask my mother how often I still call to say, "Do you think this meat is still good?" or "I think I'm getting sick."

So it is, too, with being artists, writers, creatives of all kinds. One doesn't cease to see the world with a certain studious eye, even after leaving the studio for the day. I can't even slip out for an afternoon "off" at the cinema without noticing and admiring the edits, the acting performances that are so true I feel something in my gut, the lines of dialogue that change the way I see the world forever, or the cinematography that takes my breath away. I also think many creatives have a sense of being chosen by, rather than solely choosing their work. If it were just about occupation, I'd be a barista, or maybe punch in for some company with sweet benefits. There's a way I feel pursued by this work, like I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I left it undone.

When I walk down the street and there is a small hand inside each of my own, it's like I drop down into a deep well. I can get lost in being with the girls, in our quiet rhythm, in the simple joys of steaming morning milk and washing dishes with the record player spinning and the twinkle lights all aglow. It's like a country I could live in forever.

The same is true when I lose myself in my work. Time stretches or races or simply ceases to be. I feel like there's nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather be doing. When I'm serving one vocation or the other, I sink down deep into the well and I am the rope, I am the bucket, and then I am the water. It feels like bliss. It feels like joy.

But here's the catch--it's not easy to serve two vocations at once. I can't go so deep down that I can no longer see the sky. I have to remember to look at the clock at least once before it is three o'clock and my little ones are waiting for my face to appear in the crowd, for my embrace and our conversations about the day on the walk home. And I can't get so comfortable with my cozy little family that I don't get out to shows or back on stage, or back to the studio projects that have been waiting to be finished.

I am still a beginner in this dance of two vocations. Maybe it's like my friends who are from one country but now live in another--both places hold a piece of their hearts, and they are always longing, even while they are always home.