The Hint of Mentorship


I’d been looking for a flat writing surface to complete the pair of assignments that were “due” the next morning.

Whatever it was outside, in the forest bathing sense, smelled something like mold or mushroom, earthy, in the way you might like a glass of wine to hint at, except about fourteen times more pungent.

This was after I’d followed another pathway down past craftsmen ski lodge buildings, their tongue-and-groove and steel framings all black and custom-welded yet still exposed, on purpose, showing you how they fit together, how they were once organic and now less so. I’d hunted for a desk of any kind but found nothing but a brand new empty venue full of locked doors. The elevator smelled like a carpet store. My eighth share of an empty room, modeled after a Pullman-style sleeper car still smelled of cut wood and fabric, like an Ikea showroom, is what my mind and nose kept getting at and couldn’t put away. I didn’t think that was their long-term aromatic agenda. Everything in this place had a purpose, as much as it was trying to seem like it was designed by happenstance and synergy.

It was after dinner and the drumming class and back posture lecture — from which I had walked out because I had a headache and so we ran into each other again along one of the pathways below the buildings and above the landscaped stream, just as the drumming was finished up. Will had gone to the lecture, only eighteen but already had a problem with the curve in his upper spine.

We’d met in the workshop earlier that afternoon, his age and intellect and calm, studied wisdom, lord, I don’t know what else to say about it other than it belied his age. Anything else to say would be a cliche of my aging and supposed maturity. How was it possible though, that I was near the median age of the room, and someone else now was the youngest in the room, by a margin of at least a decade? I recognized that position now from the other side. Impressed. Maybe a little jealous of his youth. But intrigued, and interested.

I invite Will to join me in looking for a place to write. He was heading to college in the fall and so as we talked on the brief walk up the stairs I offered advice, something approximating a five-minute mentorship. He found his own table under bistro lights and pulls out his notebook from his pocket.

We write, silently, for nearly an hour. His head is down close to the papers sometimes, and also he laughs out loud at whatever it is he is writing.

The next day at the end of the workshop he asks for my email address. I’d thought to ask as well, I wanted to keep in touch, but also I’d found more often than not we ask for email addresses but neither party ever does any emailing. And I wasn’t even certain if that was what I would be doing, this mentoring. I’d long wondered, after two decades of having been mentored, what motivated these gifts from others that. For the first time, there it was, the answer to this question that had been unanswered for twenty years:

What was it like for them, these mentors, when they met me? Would I ever meet someone and be inspired to mentor them, in the way it had happened to me? And if I did, would it be from a self-recognition, or because of something unexpected?

It turned out to be both.

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