We got home late Thursday night from Truro on the Cape. Friday morning, after a meeting, I took Aussie to a nearby conservancy for her morning walk. She sniffed the air above a wide creek and, next thing I knew, she plunged into the water, half-waded, half-swam across, and ran. I was sure she’d sniffed the scent of deer, but it turned out to be only wild turkeys.
Chasing deer is Aussie’s practice. She yip-yip-yips like a coyote (doesn’t do that chasing anything else), ignoring my calls because she’s lost in the thrilling realm of the hunt. She’s found her mission in life, found her life, and that life is inseparable from deer. There’s no deer, no Aussie, just rushing through the water, hopping over the tall grass, run-run-run.
At that point, nothing else exists for her, including me. Including her.
I often think that lucky are those who know what their calling is. Who know what their life is about, are aware of their gifts, and dedicate them to a particular purpose from which they won’t deviate. Life might crack open for them just a little, giving them only one or two slim opportunities on the other side of a river or creek, but they’ll rush through the water like Aussie rushes after deer. In the process they discover more and more what their purpose in life is, who and what they are.
A close friend of mine went to Radcliffe College, then associated with Harvard College when Harvard was only open to men. She herself had a successful career in movies and TV before starting a family, but felt that she’d missed out on the success that seemed within her reach in her early years in Hollywood and New York City.
Once she mentioned to me names of various people she’d met around the Harvard campus who’d become stars in the world of theater and movies. I asked her if she felt disappointed that she hadn’t gotten there, and she said yes. I asked her what she felt made the difference, and she replied:
“I’d come out of a building and look for a car to get me home. But I had a particular car in mind. It had to be new, red, expensive, and a convertible, and if one didn’t show up right away, I’d wait and wait till it did. The others would come out of a building and also look for a car to get them home. If a broken-down VW came around the corner, they’d take it. If an open-air jeep came along, they’d take it even in the middle of winter. If an old Chevy with torn upholstery came by, they’d take it, all while I would still stand there, waiting for my new red convertible.”
When you know what you want, when you know what makes you most alive, you’ll take any car that comes along and ride it to the end.
I thought of people who know their calling when I read of the death of Cormac McCarthy. Long ago I read all his early, pre-All the Pretty Horses novels, his later ones, too, including the vivid, brutal and cinematic Blood Meridian. If ever you want to read a book to relieve you of our sanitized visions of westerns, start (and end) the search with this book.
I didn’t love everything. The Road was too implacably nightmarish, other writings too self-indulgent with philosophical musings and longwinded conversations. It didn’t matter, he was a writer to be reckoned with.
McCarthy submitted to few interviews so there was little written about him, but you had the sense that he was a man with a calling that he was going to pursue to the end, carving his entire life around books, rejecting norms, staying true even in the face of early struggle and poverty, when no one bought his books except for critics (and me).
Often, I observe that people like this don’t make for the best husbands or wives, for the best fathers or mothers, and I wonder whether honoring one’s calling requires you to often fail at other things.
Now, after a week’s vacation, I try to find my own focus again. The Cape offered different birds, a million bunnies, a softer mattress, a deck adjoining the bedroom for sitting in the sun and letting the mind wander. Mostly, letting go of the fierce taskmasters called discipline and time. I felt profoundly rested by the end.
It’s changing slowly. Summer has brought out the mountain laurel but also the dark openings between trees that seem to conceal a great deal. I sit and look at the computer screen, but often my eyes wander out the window beyond the screen and to the dark recesses of the woods. Aussie dozes off on the futon behind me. No deer for her on these rainy days.