Life and health are always first on the gratitude list. My habit of reading the obituaries and saying final good byes to friends; trying to stay in touch with those struggling with serious health issues; both help one stay focused on good fortune, even when new aches and pains and physical problems arise.
Family gratitude comes next; naming each in turn; often reaching into extended family as bloodlines are crossed and significant relationships are affirmed. Then there is gratitude for friends and often “mentors.”
A helpful TED talk on mentors suggested there were different kinds. It made me think about the gifts different folks have given me.
The first kind of mentor mentioned was “the master of craft.” One high school teacher was a “craft” mentor. He gave me a passion for the right word. If one was going to give a speech or write an oration, he taught me one needed to choose words carefully and skillfully. He wasn’t an English teacher; he was in Theatre and Speech. He assisted me in writing and speaking an award winning oration that assured me I could write and speak something, other than the vulgarities of a rebellious adolescent.
But there was also a college teacher who gave me voice lessons. He helped me understand music as a “craft.” He helped me realize there was a deeper dimension to singing than I had fully experienced before in the church choir; or even in the collegiate choir. Just singing the scales in his studio became a rich, almost holy, experience.
In a world fraying at the edges, a taste of harmony, of voices together in song, can be an enriching and necessary experience. This was truly a mentored gift.
Another kind of mentor is the co-pilot. There have been two significant co-pilots for me. Both were colleagues in an adventure in India to learn about Gandhi and his understanding of nonviolence. Both were willing to spend time back home committed to ventures in nonviolence; one helping develop two National Nonviolence Conferences in western South Dakota; the other working to develop Children’s Creative Response to Conflict (CCRC) trainings shared with educators and students around the region.
Another anchor helped my wife and I adjust to New York City when we went there for Seminary. Our pastoral mentor helped ground us in the midst of everything that was new. It was a new marriage, a new educational setting, a new residential community, a new urban environment, a new work responsibility. In the midst of all the newness there was a rock to ground us, an anchor to keep us from drifting away.
There is also a “reverse” mentor. One of my mentees will often surprise me and make me think and consider some of my own assumptions and attitudes. We have a solid enough relationship where she is not afraid to speak her mind. If she disagrees, she says so, and will often explain why.
Of course, after so many years of marriage, one has to recognize their spouse as a mentor. It may be as simple as how to better make the bed or when to change the sheets. Or, how much soap goes in the washing machine or where are the shorter nails?
I’m grateful for my mentors! I hope to remember them in all my expressions of gratitude, for all their contributions to a richer and more meaningful life.