Friday, November 19, 2010

Duties, Dreams, and Desires

It seems the question comes to this: how does one follow one's dream and do one's duty? Can you do both, or must one always be sacrificed?

For years, I have defended the doing of one's duty. The education I received in college, steeped in the great books of Western literature, convinced me that duty has far more importance than the modern world gives it, and I resolved to try my best to always do my duty. Have I done that? No, but I am slowly getting better. More bills get paid on time, I deny myself more things that I truly do not need, and I am learning how to simply buckle down and do what must be done.

But what is one's duty is not always clear.

One of my favorite filmmakers is the great American icon, Frank Capra (if you're looking for a good read, get his autobiography, The Name Above the Title. Capra's a smart guy with a fantastic story, and he tells it well). His most known film is the holiday classic, "It's A Wonderful Life." This paean to duty tells the story of a man with big dreams who lives his entire life in one small town, eventually discovering the impact his "small" life has had. It's a great film, and I've always heartily defended George Bailey; I still believe that George's choices are excellent, and he does what he must, finding in the end a difficult but very great joy.

However, what if one isn't George Bailey? And how do you know if you are?

In fact, it's quite likely that George's vocation, to family and town, is not mine. I already live thousands of miles from the state I was born in (the only member of my immediate family to live out-of-state), and instead of living in a small town I live in a suburb of Los Angeles. I am a single woman, and have no-one apart from myself who depends on my income.

Here's where desire comes into play, I think. George Bailey, in the end, stays in Bedford Falls because he loves Mary. Once he truly loves her, his duty is clear. But what if one desires something else?

A few years ago, I was quite distraught about being single. I'd never gone out on a date, or had anyone show any real interest in me. In the middle of my distress, I was engulfed in a moment of calm, beyond emotion. I felt as though God was speaking to me in that moment, showing me two paths. One path was the one I had been on, the one that pursued marriage and family; the other was a mystery, and I didn't know where it would leave. But I did know that wherever I went, God would be with me, and that took away my fear of the unknown path.

The words take longer to type and read than the moment itself. As soon as I was aware of the decision to be made, my choice was over. I chose the unknown path, the path of singleness. And now, looking back on it, I wonder if by doing so I became unable to be like George Bailey.

I wonder if by giving up the pursuit of a lifelong love, I have instead gained a duty towards something else.

So, this is where it stands: being who I am, where I am, with the choices I have made, what is my duty? I have my duties to God: the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty. I have my duties toward my family: being financially independent, honoring the way they raised me. These I am certain of.

But maybe the rest is negotiable.

God placed this love of space, this joy in human achievement, this delight in words in my soul. Is part of my duty to use them? Is that, perhaps, why He asked me to choose the road of singleness, so that I could take on a different duty?

I don't know. I wish I did know; the path ahead would be much clearer. But that's life. We can never see more than a step or two ahead at any given moment, no matter how hard we try. The world is a muddled place, and I don't know where my duty lies, or what role my dreams and desires play in it.

But I will keep searching.

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

~T.S. Eliot

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