by Henry O. Arnold
At the tender age of four, I experienced the power of storytelling. My father played the role of Billy Bigelow in the musical Carousel. When he died on stage I was so distraught, I had to be carried out of the theatre. It was not until I saw Dad backstage greeting an adoring public that my little heart was calmed. I fell into his loving arms so thankful he was alive. I believe this early memory set the course for my calling as an actor and author.
There is certainly an “in the bloodline” component to my creative life. My father was an actor and a professor. My mother was also an actor and journalist. We were a family who loved words, loved to tell stories, and loved people. There was a constant flow of individuals in and out of our house. My parents had the gift of hospitality and my siblings and I look back on those times with wonder and good humor.
In my early days I was uncertain about many things, which included God and what sort of professional life I might embrace. At the not-so-tender age of twenty, I had my first professional opportunity on stage with my father in the musical Man of la Mancha. He played Don Quixote and I was Paco, muleteer #5. It was thrilling. I got to watch my father create his role with discipline and hard work transforming himself into someone else, a fully human, fully truthful, fully believable character all in service to a great story. The truth is what all artists seek and wish to tell.
Being part of this production was no random accident or even from being the son of the lead actor. This was an invitation to enter an unusual life, one that if accepted, would require much. The experience had awakened within me an interest in artistic expression that held my attention, that gave me an opportunity to think creatively, and to look at life and the world through a creative lens. It also affirmed that I was good at something. It was a match between talent and interest. But was it a calling?
The saying of “God’s calling on your life” is often thought of in religious terms. I was blessed to be reared by godly parents, and though I spent time wandering in the proverbial wilderness, when I did embrace my faith, I realized I could not separate what I did professionally from my belief in God. By surrendering my life to God it meant my talents were also surrendered. And my relationships. When my wife, Kay, and I were married forty-five years ago, everything became intertwined in a sacred intimacy.
There have been many lean and hungry times in the life of my calling as an actor and author. Long periods of discouragement were borne out of famines of employment and constant rejections. This sacred intimacy I refer to has endured deep woundings: the pain of God’s long silences when pleas and prayers have failed to move; the look of sorrow and bewilderment when I have failed to love Kay as Christ loves His bride; the misery of always being told “no” by publishers and directors. It is easy to doubt and even become fearful. Why had God’s calling led me into the desert of multiple failures? Had I taken the wrong road? Had I missed a turn? Should I go back?
A calling is not just a job you take to pay the bills or a career climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder. A calling is a way of life that takes over body, soul, and spirit. I equate it to the great commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Such a way of life requires one to accept and embrace at least three realities. You must have perseverance. When I create a character either for the stage or the page, there must be obstacles for the character to endure. They must persevere. You must be willing to sacrifice. A life-calling costs something. What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to risk? And you must accept failure. The “failure is not an option” slogan may have the rare relative moment, but do not be fooled. You will fail. And don’t be discouraged by the scars of personal failures. Wear them with humble dignity.
Think of the stories you will collect by embracing your calling. We are storytellers by nature. It is how we process what is going on internally and helps to provide clarity and purpose to our complex lives. When I read Scripture, especially the Old Testament, I see a collection of failures by both the major and minor characters in those stories. This is what makes them real. The divinely inspired authors did not shy away from the verities of human nature. As an actor and an author, in order for me to create believable and authentic characters on the page and on the stage requires that I be an authentic person in real life with all my stumbling and bumbling.
The essence of a calling is commitment. You could even go so far as to use the biblical word covenant. But I believe to be fully human, to be fully present in this world, and to fully realize what you have been called and created to do, one must embrace the way of life required by the calling.
When not writing, Henry O. Arnold can be found hiking on a trail somewhere in the world. He and his lovely wife Kay have two beautiful daughters, married to two handsome men, with three above-average grandchildren. Get a more detailed look at his creative life by visiting www.henryoarnold.com