Editorial: Discovering vocation in light of tragedy

Editorial: Discovering vocation in light of tragedy

Thirteen years ago this week our country experienced the tragedy of 9/11 when four planes were hijacked on American soil. Two hit the World Trade Center in New York City, a third the Pentagon and the fourth a field in Pennsylvania (after the passengers aboard heroically attempted to take back the cockpit).

I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 memorial in New York City a few weeks ago. It was stunning. Sad. Humbling. The site of the two towers is now home to two vastly deep and dark memorial pools. Surrounding the pools are many young and healthy trees. There are benches for people to sit, quiet and serene, reflecting on the tragedy as the pools reflect the names of those lost.

Underneath the pools is a museum with a timeline of events and a thorough explanation of what occurred: The history of Al-Qaeda, the mobilization of the city and the country, the news reports from that day.

I cried.

In my English capstone class we are talking about vocation. We do this a lot at Calvin. Starting in First Year Seminar (or Prelude, if you are as old as I am), we are told that we have a calling. We are told to be true to this calling and authentic in what we believe and how we live out our lives.

In one of our most recent discussions, my professor told us about one class period she taught in the capstone class. She had asked her students to read articles about finding your calling as an English major. You know, embracing the fact that you love Jane Austen and can probably dedicate your life to the study of her many works. The students had read those pieces in preparation for a riveting discussion. The discussion never happened. That morning, those four planes crashed. Many Americans died. Many more panicked, and those readings seemed different.

Now, I am not saying that dedicating your life to the study of Jane Austen is necessarily a bad thing. What I am saying is some things are different in light of tragedy. It wasn’t that wanting to study Jane Austen didn’t make sense; the world as a whole didn’t make sense.

We are living in a time of great tragedy. People all over the world are hurting and suffering and dying. Journalists are beheaded by ISIS. Gaza is bombed. Ukraine is invaded. Young men are shot to death for stealing.

We are at Calvin. We are safe. We are worrying about Jane Austen texts and trying to find our crushes in the dining halls. We are participating in Mudbowl and Chaos day. We are thinking about our vocations.

Does it make sense to do this in a world of tragedy? A world where planes hit buildings?

If you are a senior right now, you are most likely struggling with the question of what happens after you graduate. I am. What happens when we leave the place we have called home the past four years? What happens when all our friends are dispersed across the country and the world? What happens when another global crisis occurs or when we are faced with personal tragedy? What happens when nothing seems to make sense?

To be honest, I don’t quite know. I have been asking for a lot of advice lately from people I love and respect. I would like to share some of this advice with you now. First, bad things will happen. Tragedy will occur. Vocation or calling is not about having an “easy life” but rather facing the world with courage and sharing hope with those who have none. To have a vocation is to live and work in the reality and brokenness of the world.

Second, it is okay to not have a plan. We are in our early 20s and have years to learn and make mistakes and grow. Just because you don’t know what to “do with your life” doesn’t mean you don’t have a calling. You may have many.

Last, but certainly not least, surround yourself with those you love and those who love you. When all seems lost, they are the people who will be there. The people you will call, the people to cry with.

As we move past this week of memorial, my hope is that we will remember the tragedies of the past and present. In doing so, let us not give up the hope we have for the role we will play in our world.