Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Excuse Me Ms.

Yesterday I got the rejection letter from Ms. Magazine that I had waited months for. I queried them in the fall to propose writing about my mentor's life. She was very influential and well-known, so it is not as if I asked about some high school teacher or something. They rejected it anyway. Ah well. I wanted to do it more for her memory and achievements for women and girls than for myself getting published.

I did get a chance, though, to write something about her for a newsletter put out by the Careers office at my college at home.

"Mentor was many things to many people: a leader, a supervisor, a board member, a college president, a chairwoman, a wife, a mother, a mentor, a friend.

While I would bet my life on the fact that she was extremely successful in all she did, I can only personally comment on who and what she was to me.

I first saw Mentor when I showed up for the morning breakfast that was precursor to my interview for the Fellowship. It was April 1, 2004. I walked in, extremely early and extremely nervous, and pinned my nametag to my suit lapel. Mentor greeted me warmly, looked at my nametag and exclaimed, “Oh, I remember reading your essays! I really enjoyed them.” I looked at her, mouth agape, and then she turned to greet someone else. The rest of the morning I was kicking myself for having been so nervous. How could I forget to say “thank you?”

She made the opening remarks, introducing herself and the others associated with the Foundation. She told us that we were gifted, and should have been proud of ourselves for being chosen to interview for the Fellowship, regardless of whether or not we were chosen in the end. If we were not, there were other fellowships out there for us, she was sure of it.

She was also one of the interviewers on my panel. She pressed me with provocative questions about politics, literature, my essay topics, my goals, me. I was intimidated, not because she was harsh or overly serious, but because she had an overwhelming presence that let everyone in the room know she was a great woman. You didn’t even have to know of her accomplishments to sense that.

During the next two years of my life, I was blessed enough to talk to, listen to, confide in and learn from Mentor. When my father was involved in a nearly fatal accident, Mentor called me and left me a message of hope and encouragement. I spent quite a bit of time in hospital waiting rooms just listening to her message over and over. She also sent me flowers, to let me know that I was supported and loved.

Mentor took me to lunch one day last fall when I was preparing to interview for the internship in Venice. Although I had become more familiar with her, I was still a bit intimidated when around her. I constantly worried that I would sound ignorant because her intelligence awed me. Over lunch, I asked, a bit timidly, “I know this is a stupid question, but how does one get around in Venice? Can you only take boats?” She launched into an indepth answer about the transportation system in Venice, a city without cars and streets. At the end of her response, she looked me right in the face and said, “And there is no such thing as a stupid question.”

I was fortunate enough to be granted that internship. It was my first time abroad and away from my family, and at times I felt a bit worn out and overwhelmed. Sarah, the other Fellow who had gone with me, constantly volunteered for every task, both large and small. She was exhausted some times but still she pressed on. I volunteered for tasks as well, but she put me to shame. One day I asked her, “Sarah, why do you do so much more than the other interns?” She said to me, “I know it’s silly, but I always think of what Mentor would say. Sarah, they need volunteers. Why aren’t you volunteering?” Even in Mentor’s absense, her work ethic and ideals for excellence resonated with us. Sarah’s reminding me of that fact inspired me.

When I learned of Mentor’s illness – while I was overseas – I was hit very hard. I cried at work for several days in a row, and each time my supervisors sent me home to sit with the grief I knew was fast approaching. I couldn’t imagine not being able to have more lunches with Mentor, to ask her opinion on matters close to my heart, to hear her give those nuggets of wisdom I had treasured for the past two years. After those few days, however, I began to listen to the Mentor in my head, as Sarah had done. I thought about what she would want me to do: sit at home crying, or take full advantage of the internship she had wanted for me? I knew my answer.

It was not easy to finish the summer, and it was not easy to come home and learn the news that Mentor had passed away. I hadn’t had a chance to visit her, no chance to say goodbye except for the letter I emailed her from Venice. The last time I saw her was at our Launch Party in May, when she was wishing us well and we were all saying our goodbyes. We had all been on the verge of embarking on one of the most incredible experiences of our lives. Experiences we would not have had without Mentor.

Mentor was an extraordinary woman. My life is only one of the many that have been forever altered by her wisdom, grace and kindness. I loved her, and I still love her, and she is still with me."

1 comment:

fp said...

i'll continue to pray for her