When I drive on the highway, I do math problems in my head. Road signs conveniently list the distance to the next town, so I calculate speed and arrival times with variances for fuel stops and traffic. I’m quite accurate, even though, outside the car, I turn into the typical English major who stares at numbers as if they’re a foreign language—because they are.
Driving in town, you know I do my best thinking, foregoing the math for imaginative wanderings. In the car yesterday I thought over Goodbye, Old Friend that I had just posted, and decided I would change the line that reads, “Oh, love” to “O, love.”
It’s not a big change, mind you, in terms of letters. But I wanted to use the Latin vocative case, giving me that nice “O” and allowing me to call attention to the way the speaker is crying out, literally invoking love. After that decision, I played mentally with the words invoke and vocative, calling on an old memory from Latin class with the sentence, “Labor me vocat,” or “Work summons me,” or loosely, “Duty calls.” From there, I added vocal and voice to the mental call mix, and landed at vocation. And it startled me to the point that I suddenly said out loud, “Well, we lost that one, didn’t we?” Meaning that the word vocation has been overused to mean a trade, and has perhaps lost its original meaning of calling.
I remember in high school that the Vocational-Technical kids would leave after the morning classes to attend their “Vo-Tech” training off site. Vo-Tech arts taught auto mechanics, cosmetology, agriculture, metal work, etc. These trades are specialized and lucrative, so I never really thought of them as a “calling.” And worse, we sometimes refer to dead-end jobs as “simple vocations.” I always thought a calling was something that, no matter what you did, you couldn’t avoid. It was meant to be.
And typically, a calling is one that will be a financial risk, a starving-artist type of job, something that you believe in and can’t help but be drawn to do. You’re called. You, and you alone, hear the voice calling you to do something beautiful that always risks the heart.
I do think that we, the English-speaking world, dropped the ball on the word vocation and that we let go of all of its best, inherent qualities. The brain does wonders with mathematical relations to be sure, but while the voice of the heart is quiet, it’s also strong, and worthy of our attention.
~ Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing.