“The Call of Stories” is the way that Robert Coles once put it. There is something about a good story that deepens us as human beings, allowing us to know ourselves and the world more completely, even more truthfully. He used the image of “the moral imagination” to get at this, and I think he was right.
I thought of this last night when Meg and I saw the new film, “Quartet,” a story brought into being by Dustin Hoffman in his first role as a director. There is a certain irony here, the ever and iconically “Graduate” that he will always be, now at age 75 telling a tale about old people. The story features four friends who have known each other for most of life, singing on the stages of London’s opera houses for decades. But now they are elderly, bodies and minds wearing out, even voices faltering.
Set in a home for retired musicians, Beecham House is situated in very beautiful English countryside. (If any of us have to ever live in a “home” in our later years, this is where we all want to be!) The residents are still who they have always been, and enjoy their life, teasing, laughing, singing– even as they feel the diminishing of their lives as they form a common life with people with kindred callings: pianists, violinists, actors, and yes, opera stars.
I found myself thinking about vocation, not surprisingly, about who we are and how we live, about the relationships and responsibilities that form the contours of life for Everyman and Everywoman. How do we make sense of life over the course of life.
Musing over the movie afterwards in a dinner with friends, thinking about it again this morning, I am sure that there is something in our knowing the difference between vocation and occupation, between calling and career.
Vocation and calling are literally the same words, one Latin and one Greek, and mean the deeper, longer story of one’s life, the commitments and passions, the gifts and skills, the loves and longings that make us “us.” The second words are similar in meaning as well, but are different than the first words. They describe the particular relationships and responsibilities along the way of life that we “occupy” as our vocations and callings are deepened and clarified.
In the now-but-not-yet world that is ours, there is always dissonance between what we feel we were “made for,” and what we do day by day. In everyone’s life there is dissonance. It cannot not be.
And it is the dissonance that Hoffman explores in his film. I have been this! I am this! And yet I can no longer do this…. so who am I?
We are called into a good story in the “Quartet,” and so there are tears and laughter, sorrow and joy—like your life and mine. Wonderfully, beautifully, it is the BBC at its best, allowing all of us a way into a story about life as it is for everyone, eventually. Once newly-minted graduates full of what might be… and most of life later with memories of what life has been, still hoping for what might be. Vocations are ours for life; it is our occupations that change. And the Graduate himself understands this, artful storyteller that he is.