The Reluctant Mentor

June 23, 2010

On the morning dash to work yesterday, I rolled past the one store in my town’s small historic district that I still plant flowers for, the final holdover of the gardening business I ran several years ago. Typically, shop staff tends the plants, but I’d been asked to care for them during the owners absence.

The flowers looked happy, but with temperatures slated to spike into the 90s, wanted to be sure none were thirsty. As I pulled a U-turn and into a parking spot directly across the street from the shop, a dignified, slightly bent-over gentleman was walking past.  It was a Pulitzer-prize winning author, New York Times columnist and former Masterpiece Theatre host. And former gardening client.  For the past decade, he would ‘appear’ whenever I was silently but deeply questioning my own writing; he would inspire me thoroughly with entirely backwards advice, such as to quit focusing so much on writing and get a job that paid real money–that finding an editor was challenging–and writing wasn’t really all that. Usually, he had a somewhat mischievous smile on his face in the manner of one who is enjoying popping a neophyte’s false assumption bubbles about a craft they know little about. I invited him to speak once at my writer’s group, and he flatly declined, stating he had nothing to say about writing.

There is more I could say about our exchange at approximately ten minutes to eight that morning, but suffice to say, sometimes the best mentors and teachers are not those who have any interest in being one.



June 9, 2010

A friend recently took me to dinner to celebrate a milestone–the completion of my first manuscript.  What had started as a simple journal developed over time into a full-fledged book, through many doubts, fits and starts.  Not until its completion did I recognize one of its most important lessons, the key perhaps to understanding the entire process: the purpose of the pause.

As we discussed events of our lives over the past year during the five course meal, moments between dishes served seemed a perfect picture of needful reflection on what we had just taken in; the chance to savor fully; the cleansing of the palate to make ready for the next.  As if to underscore this, at the top of an hour, an unexplainable hush fell over all the diners as an old grandfather clock in one corner of the room chimed out the time; the curious silence hovered in the air for a moment or two before conversation swept back like the tide.

Through much of my life, I have not taken adequate time to pause and reflect in life’s many passages. Next moments seem to come faster than the last ones; yet the more I attempt to capture them, the more bereft of time I feel.  The irony is that when I am vigilant about holding intentional space for rest and meditation, the more time there seems to be for responsibilities, opportunities, and play.

The Hebrew musical term ‘selah’ means ‘to pause, and think calmly of that.’  Appearing in instances throughout the book of Psalms, the songwriter directs readers to a bridge of silence between movements: a nuanced tension.  To create readiness for the next moment because the previous one was experienced to the full.

A pause honors what was, and is the preparation for the new.  One season merges gradually to the next; the sun rises and sets and in between, there is rest.

Before starting the next project, I am going to reflect on what it means to have just completed a journey.  Selah.