This week is National Vocation Awareness week; a favorite political science professor of mine also published his "Last Lecture" talk, which my academic honorary revived and now hosts every year. Dr. Schlueter's was definitely my favorite, and now it has been published in the Jan/ Feb 2011 issue of Touchstone! This excerpt comes from a section entitled "Personal Reflections" and includes not one but two poems that he wrote about his vocation...
I began these remarks by pointing out that my experience of death is an existential German thing rather than a Greek philosophical one. It seems appropriate therefore that I offer a more personal reflection on the romance of domesticity.
For years, it has been my habit to write poems on special occasions (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.). Here, then, is a verse from “Clarity,” a poem I wrote on the occasion of the birth of my first child, Leo, in 1999.
How is it that from this grotesque display
of sight and sound, smell and touch
concrete as weary hands and tears and blood-splattered shoes
comes beauty so ineffable that the heart stops in awe and adoration
of the primordial breath of Spirit over the abyss?
My shoes really did have blood on them. I wore them, still dazed, to the local restaurant to pick up the steak dinner my ravenous wife requested after the delivery. (To my amazement she ate every bite, while Leo slept soundly next to her in bed). And for years I continued to wear them, bearing these ineffable marks, while working around the house and the yard. Most times this was an unconscious thing, but once in a while, in the midst of raking leaves or taking out the trash, I would look down and notice and remember, and be stunned once again.
I don’t deny that I often envy my bachelor colleagues who can retire to quiet homes after a long day at work, and spend the rest of the evening reading their favorite books or developing a talent or hobby. My latest talent is that I can get five children tucked in bed, with teeth brushed, pajamas on, and spirits more or less settled for rest, in under five minutes. And yet it has become evident to me beyond doubt, precisely in the midst of these labors, that this is my vocation. This is how I expressed it to my wife:
"Real Love" (2006)
When I am overwhelmed by the thickness of the world
I understand why God chose this life for me
Because I don’t paint pictures I write poems
Because I don’t eat chocolate I drink gin
Because I don’t read history I study mythology
Because I don’t tell jokes I listen to music
And soon I find myself grasping, desperately.
Then I return:
to the smell of Emil’s diaper,
Helen is in despair (her baby is cold),
Leo can’t get his Lego car to work (the wheel keeps coming off)
And dinner isn’t ready, you tell me,
All at once
I am grateful for you, beyond words,
Beyond all reckoning, for your splendor
And your solidity.
Zossima was right: Love in reality,
compared to love in dreams,
Is a harsh and terrible thing.
So be it! So be it!
To read the wonderful Dr. Nathan Schlueter's full article, see "The Romance of Domesticity" here.