In the more fortunate moments of our lives we encounter those singular people who give the illusion, at least in retrospect, of having come into our life at just the right moment. They are role models, mentors, people from whom we have something essential to learn.
I was lucky to have had one professor in college whose influence helped me to stop bouncing around campus like an errant ping pong ball. When it came to making a decision about graduate school, his encouragement was meaningful but I realize now that his example was far more important. He seemed to live life without all of the categorical distinctions we commonly build for ourselves: research, teaching, work, home life. It was all important to him, blended naturally to form a mixture that was simply his life.
I have long preferred the long and windy path to the express lane and so in between undergrad and grad school I spent some time wandering in the desert. I met a women there, about a decade my senior, who lived in a hippie trailer community in what was then the dusty desert town of Moab. She walked a remarkable balance between living on and off the grid, rebellion and conformity. She welcomed nearly everyone into her bus, disheveled bearded types and wide-eyed recent college grads alike, and she showed me for the first time in my adult life what it meant to be part of a community. She cared for the many children of the park as if they were her own and, although she had no biological children of her own, she was one of the most amazing mothers that I have ever met.
I’ve been thinking lately about how wonderful it would be to come across just the right person at this time in my life. If by chance I could be lucky enough to meet one of those women who has learned to navigate motherhood so that she never wonders whether she has gained more of herself than she’s lost. Or even to find any of my previous mentors again, to learn those lessons all over again.
But then it occurred to me that a true mentor is much more than someone who teaches solutions or models right behavior. The greatest of teachers is one who shows us an entirely new way of looking at the world.
And then I realized, I may have found my greatest teacher yet.
And to think, he is only two.