An unlikely mentor


I keep trying to write something about the current state of politics. I’ll start commenting on one side of the aisle and then the other does something that I find completely ridiculous. In the end, I find myself right back where I started. So, instead of a political blog, I write today about a mentor who saw something in me that no one else had ever seen.


I lifted the ax and took a huge whack out of the log. With each swing, I could feel the anger seep out of my pores. I worked the summer helping a family friend on his small farm. I mowed his fields; helped build a fencepost and clear out a small barn, hauled hay; cut wood and a million other odd jobs.

Every day seemed to wrap into the other.

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He was a retired English teacher who had worked in the city. Our routine was the same every day. He’d give me some task to do on the farm. I’d tackle it until late morning. He’d come help me a little and then give me a water break. When done, he’d give me something else to tackle while he went off to get us lunch, usually a peanut butter or bologna sandwich and maybe an apple. I remember he once got me to try fried zucchini. I’m not a zucchini kind of guy, but he had a way of getting me to try new things.

I hated the job at first, hence the anger cutting the wood. I hated the worn muscles I got from the ax and the tired legs I got from mowing the yard. More than anything I hated everything that the job wasn’t. I wanted a job that paid real money, one that I could put on my resume and would help get a future job in communications. In my own snotty way, I looked down on the job.

I wanted something more, but the funny thing was that the job grew on me. I found that  by the end of the summer I learned a ton from him and came to look forward to our talks. He was patient. I remember once telling him my dream to become a writer. I was surprised that I told him something so private. I usually kept that pipedream to myself and a few select friends. I was even more surprised when he listened and encouraged me.

I’m not sure if it was his former job as a teacher or his Central Pennsylvania roots, but he had a folksy way of probing for the truth and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I told him all the reasons why my dream was a pipe-dream, everything from no job prospects to the lack of connections and my need to make a living and payback my mountain of student loans.

But he wouldn’t take no for answer. He questioned why I couldn’t make the dream a reality.

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I sat my laptop at work the other day to work on a piece. I wasn’t working on anything fancy, no novel or book, not even my deep thoughts on truth, justice and the American way. It was just a simple email explaining how a technology upgrade would help my client, but nothing seemed to go right. I couldn’t get the right lede. I couldn’t find the right words. My thoughts were a jumbled mess, flying in-and-out in a million different directions. But I thought about my former boss. I thought about the calmness he exuded and his belief in the dream before even I could see it.

And in time the right words started to come together. Nothing brilliant, just a few simple thoughts, first one, then another, and another, and another until I had the makings of a finished piece.

When I packed up later that night for my commute home, I thought more about my summer working on the farm. The job didn’t pay much and it never really made it to my resume, but it gave me something more: it taught me to dream.

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