Life Beyond Vocation

Somewhere—maybe in Man’s Search for Himself—Rollo May says the modern age is particularly the age of anxiety.  I don’t remember his reasoning, but I expect it went something like: never have earthmilkywayindividual human beings been so exposed, so vulnerable.  Physical ailments, aging, disease, the loss of a loved one, the loss of love itself are the common stuff of life, but now the individual increasingly lacks the means by which to sustain his or her self when struck by this common stuff.

Before individuals had, for example, marriage till death did you part, for good or ill, or sickness and in health.  Or one had family, for better or worse, located around and about, but relatively nearby that could be called, or just showed up at your door whether  one wanted it or not, in moments of crisis.  One might have hated as much as loved their faces; but all were familiar and there was comfort in that.  Just as comfort was to be found in the relatively unchanging aspect of the old neighborhood.  And of course, in a pinch, one had religion and the comfort of a shared faith.

But marriage is in trouble.  The family is breaking up and taking new shapes.  One has had, to make ends meet, left the area completely.  Family is not around and about or nearly.  And having left, when one returns, the old neighborhood is hardly recognizable.  And religion now offers the threadbare shared faith of a fast food franchise. Never, ever has it been easier to buy your way into heaven.

This is the life now, beyond vocation, to which Sanford refers.  A life, lacking the supports that were once there, the familiar comforts and the comforts of familiarity that blanketed the individual and kept him protected against disaster in the prospect and disaster already afflicted.  The individual is left exposed, then, to an indifferent universe.  At an extreme, or for the more imaginative, one now knows the universe is very huge, unimaginably huge.  The earth that holds us down is less than a speck, less than a microbe in that great space.  And if the earth is not struck and destroyed by a meteor that’s only a matter of timing, only a consequence of the duration of human consciousness being—from its beginning to its end—less that a tick in the expanse of geological time.  There’s a lot of time for us to be gone and for the meteor not to appear.

This is indifference—and not merely a metaphor for it—at its most abstract.  Like the music of the spheres, one can just barely imagine it.  But more up close and personal, one can perhaps imagine pulling out from the intersection to be struck by thousands of pounds of metal hurtling at 60 miles an hour, and you live and wake to find yourself paralyzed from the waist down and your wife carried off to whatever kingdom is to come. 

 But even that is too abstract really; for the indifference of which May speaks is woven into the fabric and texture of our daily lives.  We try to give it a face by calling it such things as “terror.”  This is the world beyond vocation, and education as it is currently practice does nothing to help individuals hold together in the face of it.

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