In this universe, there is some task out there that is ours in a morally valid way. This is referred to as our vocation. Education is supposed to lead us to this lifelong vocation, which is ultimately an occupation that will feel natural and we will love. The problem with most of us is that we are so conflicted in life that we never consider looking for our true vocation. Men who have been too conflicted have never found their true vocation and those who find their true vocation; they never had any conflicts about it. Often we become so conflicted in life that we tend to reject and resist our a pursuit that may be near to our heart, trying to run away from it, but often, life somehow leads us back to into the arms of our life’s calling. The story of John Irving’s, The Cider House Rules, is also somewhat about finding one’s vocation.
Homer Wells, who is an orphan, is the protagonist of the novel. During his childhood, Homer assists Dr. Wilbur Larch, who runs the same orphanage that Homer was delivered in, while also secretly working as an abortionist. When Dr. Larch is unable to find a foster home for Homer, realizing that he will probably spend his whole childhood in the orphanage, he trains Homer in obstetrics and how to perform abortions, and becomes a father figure to him. However, throughout the novel, Homer faces a variety of conflicts as he searches for his vocation in life. During the time he spends at the orphanage, Homer is taught that people should “ be of use” in their lives, which is a recurring theme throughout the novel. Initially, Homer actually yields to this old fashioned virtue, rather than following his heart, looking for his true vocation and finding satisfaction in life, a mistake that many of us make.
The primary conflict that hinders Homer from pursuing his true vocation in life is the conflict between him and Dr. Larch. Homer believes that abortion is morally wrong and is against it, while is reluctant to work as an abortionist and believes that he is helping women with unwanted pregnancies. Since Homer is an orphan, life is the only thing that his mother gave him, the only thing that is truly his. So it is not surprising that he considers abortion as ending a life and is against it. However, Larch believes that it is a woman’s right to have a safe abortion rather than undergoing back-alley operations and not to bring unwanted children into this world. This conflict not only draws Homer apart from Dr. Larch, but also from his true vocation of becoming an abortionist himself, even though initially it seems morally wrong and he does not realize that it is his life’s calling.
Like Homer, many of us do not pursue our life’s calling, our true vocation because of the inner conflict of pursuing a career instead. We are conflicted with finding jobs where we can make money, get promotions, become experts, and ultimately earn a pension when we retire. Just like it had been instilled into Homer at the orphanage that people must “ be of use” in their lives, similarly, this culture and society has instilled into us that a career is more important than a vocation and this has caused us to become conflicted within ourselves. To Homer, being an abortionist, and even though he runs away from it because of his belief that it is morally wrong, there is actually nothing wrong with having a career. In fact, a vocation is not so different from a career, since even when pursuing a vocation, you have to go to a workplace and you get a paycheck.
So what distinguishes a vocation from a career? There are potentially never ending careers out there, however, it is we who have to find your true vocation from them. Certainly, it is likely that we may make the mistake making the wrong choice and not make it our vocation just yet, and the same happens to Homer as well. Regardless of his reasons, Homer also runs away from his true vocation, leaving St. Cloud’s orphanage to work at an apple orchard instead. While working there, Homer has an illicit relationship with the orchard owner’s wife, who gives birth to Homer’s illicit son, who is named Angel. By the time Angel is a teenager, the girl he seems to love becomes pregnant and Homer is forced to perform an abortion. Ultimately, after Dr. Larch decides, life leads Homer back to his true vocation, and he takes over as the new director of the orphanage and continues performing abortions.
So how can people find their true vocation? While many of us might not make the mistakes that Homer made in his life after leaving the orphanage, one thing that many of us are doing today is choosing the a job, often the wrong job, over pursuing a true vocation because we do not even know what a vocation is and how to find it. Homer finds a vocation in running the orphanage and working as an abortionist because he has skills to do both, and while he is not fond of performing abortions, he is still passionate about continuing Dr. Larch’s legacy. Thus, it can be deduced that our true vocation is ultimately a career and job, but not just any career or job, rather one that combines our gifts, our skills and talents, and our passion, as a result of which we pursue this vocation passionately and feel satisfied about using our skills and talents.
Even though Homer’s aversion for abortions does not change even though he resumes both of Dr. Larch’s positions, however, he is aware that he has the skill to do so and pursues his vocation with the thought that he is honoring the choice made my his female patients. So, somehow, both jobs of running the orphanage and performing abortions combines Homer’s passion and skill, even though he is initially ran away from it because of his inner conflict. Even though life gave Homer a second chance to return back to his life’s calling. Life may not give us a second chance as well. Perhaps that is why it is arguable that regardless of how conflicted we may feel because of the values that this culture and society has instilled into us, we start running towards pursuing our true vocation, our life’s calling, rather than running away from it.
Irving, J. (1994). The cider house rules. (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.