Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bouquets for great mentors

There comes a time when you start really to think about those who shaped you.

I'm not talking parents here or necessarily teachers or traditional molders of youth.

The shapers, as I shall call them, appear throughout our lives. 

They're the ones you look around for someone to admire or you receive powerful learning or insightful wisdom from being in their presence.

Mostly you don't even know you're looking for that person. It's just that they stand out immediately, or their lesson does, or the little things they do add up and come to influence you or your thinking. 

This can give you new standards, ideals, outlooks or even turn you in a new direction.

Sometimes it's someone with qualities you wish were yours. You see their poise or kindness or humor or adroitness or physical strength or leadership skills and it strikes you. There! That's who/what I want to be (or be more like).

We start young. We look up to older brothers or sisters or neighbor kids. They're doing something we want to do. At two and four and six we already intuitively understand the concept of cool.

It might be the freedom to go outside and play while we're kept back being too little. It may be watching them hop on a bike or executive a perfect dive off that - to us - long walk to the edge of the diving board.

We observe teens, the enviable tribe which are like demigods to their juniors. They giggle in their groups. They strut with peer confidence. 

They pull away sleekly from the curb in cars they're old enough to drive. Their hands rest lightly on the steering wheels. 

We'll do this some day we're told. Or we just know. The ones we admire are the ones who point the way. The promise is that it's all doable.

Celebrities and risktakers are role models for many of us. There's something about being rich and beautiful or living dangerously that has universal appeal. 

Idols of our own making can strike chords of jealousy within us. These folks seem to have it all and perhaps even flaunt it a bit or outrageously.

The possibility of everything is in their flashing moments as they parade before the adoring public.  

Following them even at a distance is more of a dreaming for most of us. We peek into their lives and in our hearts they're not our first or even foremost role models. 

Lots of us want the more substantial hero and often we want that hero cut from our own cloth.

As I reflect on the people I earliest admired several come to mind. There would be surprise on their parts that they made that kind of impression.

Often these people hardly knew me. Or I them. But what was seen was taken note of. These encounters have led to a lasting sense of connection with them because of some admirable quality or action that touched me.

There was Joyce, the mother of a classmate. Naturally we didn't call her Joyce. In elementary school days mothers were Mrs. along with whatever the last name was. 

If you knew the person very well you might use the first name. This was seldom for moms of kids in your grade at school.

She was pretty, young and gracious. She had the finesse that comes with having money and being at ease with it. I adored her. 

Of course that's too strong a term. I admired her as an eight or ten year old girl does who identifies with a woman who's not her mother.

It's the continuing application of contrasts that helps us find our own way. Other people, we soon discover, work very well as contrast material as we pinpoint who we are. We can often determine what suits us and what doesn't by the examples others demonstrate for us.

Joyce represented my sense of the unfolding world. She was of the bigger horizon. Her friendly cheer and smile gave substance to adult life beyond my experience of the home or familiar people. 

Unknowingly she was role modeling traits that I was tagging important for when my adult years came.

Then there was Stella (again, not a name we used). She was our substitute teacher in third grade. 

Our regular teacher was a pro at teaching. She had her rules. She was firm and she was fair. We paid attention and learned right along.

The few days she was absent during the school year, however, and her delightful young substitute came in, we all wiggled with pleasure at our desks. Stella made everything so interesting. 

She was vivacious. She brought a fresh style of teaching into the classroom. She was invigorating. She was the one who taught our class that Niagara Falls is a traditional place for honeymoons. 

Say what you will, it's the one solid piece of information I can positively declare came out of my third grade education!

When I was a teen, and worked part time at the local paper, as a walker I walked to the job and walked elsewhere a lot. I got to many places in town by walking. My brothers and I all walked. 

During this time I got to know a woman who also walked. I admired her because she dared to walk.

She was the wife of an attorney. She ran in a far different set. But there we were, heading in the same direction, our steps falling in with each other's. We visited as we moved along.

It seemed to me she wasn't afraid to buck convention by walking. Being seen walking wasn't what many of us wanted said of us. 

Owning a second vehicle was becoming more common. If you walked it could appear you weren't one of the two car households. Who wants to fall behind on that score it was thought then.

I appreciated this woman choosing to get around town on foot. She was doing her own thing and obviously enjoying the independence it gave her.

She was friendly and nice. She noticed me and spoke as an equal. Young people know when an adult is being genuine with them and she was that.

Don and Carol are a couple who stand out for their sheer likability. They ran a small seasonal antique shop. As a neighbor I helped out in the summer. 

Don was a prince of a fellow. No one finer. Both were hospitable. In Carol I had someone I could relate to and visit with and enjoy. 

When you find kindred spirits there is a special relationship and this best describes the affinity between Carol and me.

Two senior Board Directors from the Historical Society I joined as a young married new to town epitomize the welcoming that can make a young person bloom, grow and feel at home. They welcomed me warmly as I came aboard as a new board director that first spring. 

You don't forget such kindness. Both were Scandinavian in parentage. They had what I consider the Swedish manners and civility that I was accustomed to through my mom's side of the family. 

That town always felt like home to us. It was a cinch to fit in. In great part it was because of ones like these two men who knew how to say, Hi, glad you're here.

It brings to mind something I once heard, that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. 

This may suggest, in regard to role models, mentors and benefactors, that it's as if their radars and your own are lined up to meet. 

When you cross paths the interchange can be a short time. In many cases the effects, however, last forever. 

With an open heart gratitude is the end result. It deepens as you more clearly recognize the multiple kindnesses received along life's shared pathway.

Ro Giencke - May 2, 2012

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