Calling, Passion and Tally Ho

Tally Ho, 1909

We turn off the road toward the workshop, hearing only the faint clink of hammer on wood from across the field. Past a high fence advertising a “dangerous work site,” we pick our way through a forest of felled and sliced oak to where the ribcage of a boat perches under a roof without walls. A British man named Leo emerges and introduces himself and the most prominent entity present, the skeletally elegant 1909 Tally Ho, which he has been restoring here in Sequim, Washington for just over a year.

We’ve come to Sequim today—seizing one last adventure before Timmy returns to work—to visit our friends and former landlords from Kandern, who’ve bought an 1890s farm in this remote and lovely corner of Washington. To the north we peer into the fog at the Strait of Juan De Fuca, in whose water I played as a small child in Friday Harbor, while behind us to the south are the Olympic Mountains, jagged and splendid and looking taller than they really are. It’s a remarkable place, full of orca-themed decorations and mysteriously profitable lavender farms, a place about which you ask, “Just how do people manage to live here?” before trying to scheme up how you could manage to do just that.

Full-size ship plans, drawn on the workshop floor

A shipbuilder by trade,  Leo and his ship (which he purchased for £1) are here for a cheap place to live and work, and access to a robust sailing community on the long Washington coast. He shows us around his workshop (complete with a sizable parrot), pointing out the full-size drawings of the ship’s plans, laid out in fine lines on the white-painted workshop floor. We marvel at the new frame pieces, just finished, the first of dozens that will form the ribs of the ship, and the gleaming new keel at their base. He shows us the many tools required for this work, describing the unusual provenance of some of them, like the gargantuan bandsaw that a fellow shipbuilder sold him for about the price of a nice kitchen mixer. We’re mesmerized by every step, and by the joy and patience that this craftsman takes in this massive project, which has gone on for a year and may still last another year at least, a project he refers to as motivated, at least in part, by “the calling of adventure and challenge.”

I love meeting people like this shipbuilder, who are doing things that are strange and foreign to me, but that are clearly life-giving and fascinating to them. I love to see God’s endless creativity on display, a kaleidoscopic vision of people making beautiful things, striving—whether or not they know it—to mimic the beauty of their creator. I spent an evening last week at a show in Seattle’s Chihuly Museum, surrounded by good music and breathtaking glass sculptures by world-renowned local glassblower, Dale Chihuly. It was an evening that celebrated the marriage of creativity and calling.

The resident workshop parrot

Calling is a slippery notion these days, often linked to passion. We make a big deal of finding your passion and, yes, calling, with the understanding that once you find these things, you’ll know who you are, forever. And while I love the notion that there are some people who just have to “risk it all for something stupid and beautiful,” as the Leo the Shipbuilder wrote when he bought Tally Ho, what I love even more that this is just a tiny version of what calling can be.

Because calling can change and evolve, and passions emerge and recede throughout our lives, a dance of expression and latency that belies the notion that we are just a collection of hobbies. I think of the times in my life that I’ve been “into” mountaineering, or cross country running, or viola-playing. Those were passions, and pursuing them for a time was part of a calling, but it didn’t end there. I learned new things, loved new people, discovered new vocations along the way.

I followed a sense of calling into education, and the passion arrived later, and often came and went as I went through the many mundane hours associated with entering grades and correcting comma splices. These days, I still have a passion for teaching but don’t feel called to a classroom, calling taking me instead to undivided time with two little girls, a vocation that involves the expression of other loves.

She is only vaguely interested in this.

I think of my sister, with whom I attended the concert at Chihuly, a graceful testament to where this expansive “calling of adventure and challenge” can take us. She spent high school on the stage, tap dancing, acting, singing and playing in the orchestra, before heading off to college as a theater major. If this were a coming-of-age movie, she’d be somewhere on Broadway by now, but instead she changed course, studying global development and spending time in Rwanda and working with a global health nonprofit. Now, she owns a bakery, where her considerable interpersonal skills, her Scandinavian heritage and her passion for delicious baked goods make her incredible at what she does. Many callings, many passions, one incredible person.

After asking all the questions we can think of, we eventually leave the ship and its creator behind, returning to our friends’ new farmhouse. After living in Europe for decades, they’ve returned to America to this new place, purchasing a farmhouse and engaging eagerly with their surroundings. I think of the broadness of life, the richness and depth we’re offered when we realize that our first calling and passion, no matter where we end up or what we end up doing, is knowing Christ. Splendors will follow, and sometimes—often, always—they aren’t just what we expect.

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