The thing about mentors is that the best ones may not even know that they made a difference. I suspect that the best mentors never really set out to mentor anyone at all. They simply lead by their example. I have had many mentors in my life, but there are very few of them that I can thank. Some have passed on: but I simply do not know who the majority of them even were. They flitted into my life when I needed them and then they went on their way.
The first mentor I recall was a little girl the same age as I was then – around 5 years old. I was with several children, and we were following a baby bird as it hopped along the sidewalk, unable to fly. I realise now that it must have fallen out if its nest and it was surely terrified. I had never seen a wild creature so close before, and I was fascinated, eagerly joining the frenzied children as we followed its halting progress. For some reason, I grabbed a dandelion and pressed it repeatedly into the little bird’s face. The yellow flower was bigger than the baby bird’s head and as I knelt down to press the flower into its beak, I kept repeating “Smell the flower, little bird!”
One of the little girls who was with us looked down at me and said in a matter-of-fact tone; “Would you want someone to do that to you if you were little like that?” Bang – just like that, a fellow 5-year old taught me empathy, compassion and kindness. No anger was required; just a well-placed remark at the perfect time. I never harmed another animal again and throughout the remainder of my childhood, I held a number of elaborate funerals for any dead birds that I found (the dead baby birds I found always got the most special, preferential burials).
At a recent gathering, a group of my friends questioned whether children are born with empathy or whether they are taught empathy. At the time, I strongly maintained that you either have empathy or you do not. I only remembered the story of the baby bird a few days later, and I have been pondering ever since: was I born with empathy, or did a 5-year old teach it to me that day? How different would I be without that early lesson?
I do not recall the little girl’s name, but if she happens to be reading this; if she happens to remember a mean little girl being unkind to a helpless baby bird that day; I want her to know that her words made a huge difference…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com