Rhonda Cagle

Grown Up Questions

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Being a work-from-home person, I frequently use Starbucks as my office, meeting clients or vendors for a conversation and a cuppa. Although I sometimes mourn the fact that I’m not frequenting my favorite indie coffee shops such as Luxe, Drip, or Next, Starbucks offers a “one on every corner” convenience and a dependable consistency, however predictable.

And for people watching, Starbucks can’t be beat. A recent visit highlighted a busy “notice-me-because-I’m-important” professional warming up for his daily decision-making by placing his order with rapid-fire precision. Yeah, give me a venti quad skinny caramel macchiato. While waiting for his drink, The Busy Professional™ multi-tasked, checking his BlackBerry and returning voicemails loudly enough to convince me – or perhaps himself – of his importance.

Meanwhile, a rushed mom hurried in with her child, trying to grab breakfast on the run for her and her son before dropping him off at school. The little tyke slowly deliberated his breakfast choices as only a first-grader can. Oatmeal… with or without fruit and brown sugar? A breakfast sandwich… with sausage or ham? Meanwhile, mom was quickly spinning herself into the ceiling, knowing they had to be back in the car and on the road in less than three minutes or she and her little cherub would be late.

While mom was busy placing Junior’s order and paying for her grande-very-special-and-complicated-coffee-drink, Junior wandered over to the display shelves near my table where I was waiting for my appointment. He began fingering precariously stacked coffee mugs, gift sets, and Tazo teas. Attempting to avert disaster, I engaged the little guy in conversation. “Those are pretty mugs,” I noted while smiling at the boy. Silence. More fingering of coffee mugs resulted in more breakable objects shifting dangerously on the shelf. “Are you on your way to school?” I tried again. Success! “Yup,” he replied.

Now we’re getting somewhere. “What grade are you in?” I asked. “First grade,” he answered while sizing me up, trying to determine if I posed the dreaded stranger-danger he’s no doubt heard about.

“Really! I have two nieces who are in the first grade,” I offered. Somehow, that seemed to pass the child-snatching litmus test and he sidled up to the edge of my table and away from the very breakable coffee mugs. “What’s your favorite subject in school?” I queried. He shrugged, telling me he likes them all. Then I asked the all-important question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Instantly, his face was awash in thoughtful consideration. “Wellllllllll…” He pondered the question for a long moment before presenting his options. “Maybe a doctor or a fireman,” he answered, hedging his bet. When I asked him about his reasons for two very good choices, he answered, “Because they help people feel better and be safe.” At that moment, his frazzled mom spotted him talking with me and came over, hurrying the boy to the car. I called after them to have a good day and the would-be doctor/fireman quickly turned at the door to wave goodbye.

A short time later, my appointment arrived. A vendor to one of my clients, we went through the usual chitchat before getting down to the project du jour. As we were wrapping up, the vendor asked me, “So… what exactly do you do?” As I explained my writing/marketing/fundraising/communication services, I thought about his question.

We ask children what they want to be. We ask adults what they do. Why is that? At what point does our focus shift from being to doing? At what moment do we give up the anticipated joy of “helping people feel better and be safe” to merely collect a paycheck and make a living? More importantly, why do we allow it?

As Megan prepares to graduate from high school and community college next month, I see her grappling with this dilemma. She wants to study history and political science because it intrigues her. Her face lights up when she tells me some obscure fact about an obscure war in an obscure country and obscure time period. And yet she realizes that the sheer delight of knowing these facts will not allow her to make a living. So she’s exploring double majors and career paths that don’t involve her becoming a history teacher. When she speaks of these things, I see the light in her face slowly fade and it pains my heart.

I want my daughter to be happy; but, more importantly, I want her to have purpose. I want her “doings” to spring from “being” and visa versa. As she discovers the path God has for her, I want the question, “What do you want to be?” to still have relevance. I’m reminded of the quote from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner, “Your vocation is to be found where your deep joy meets the world’s deep need.”

In a busy world of Starbucks filled with multi-tasking professionals and harried moms, I’m raising my coffee cup and toasting to first-graders, college-bound teens, and the notion of deep joy. May we all discover it – and ourselves, our beings and doings – in the process.

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