The unexpected mentor

M and I have a young friend that we’ve known several years and like very much. She has had a rough time in her almost 21 years (January) on this earth, yet she has evolved into a woman with rare grace and humility. On her own since age 15, she has managed to craft a sustainable life despite the hardship of no emotional or financial support from her family and very few friends. An unplanned pregnancy, giving birth to a healthy son last August and generously handing him to his adopting parents has evolved in a profound and life-altering experience, one of hope and of faith rewarded.

We were chatting online last night about her upcoming trip to see baby Joseph and his family Thanksgiving week. It is an exciting new adventure for her, for which she is grateful yet nervous. Her fears are based on the unknowns, the “what ifs” of baby Joseph’s extended family and friends, whether she is too poor, too ignorant, too beneath them to warrant their acceptance at such a festive, family time.

She does not see herself as we do – her humility, her kindness, her compassion for others, her dignity and joy, her determination to better herself and her circumstances. I cannot imagine anyone not liking her, not being drawn to her, but the fears and anxiety is real. Where she is going is undiscovered country, and she will be alone on the plane and in the home of almost strangers she knows only through the most intimate and extraordinary of circumstances.

I remind her of the ties that bind them together, that priceless baby that is loved and adored by all who meet him, because she was unselfish enough to put him and his needs first. I remind her that she carefully selected them based not only on their backgrounds and qualifications as determined by the regulatory agencies, but her feelings when she met them, the way they interacted with each other and with her, their responses to her sometimes awkward questions, the way they made her feel right about her decision. These are not small or trivial things. All the studies and investigations in the world mean nothing if she, the birth mother, did not specifically say yes to them adopting her baby boy.

As we were talking she referred to M and I as her mentors and got a little teary about how far she has come based on our acceptance and guidance. It was a bit of a jarring moment. Until that conversation I had never considered us anything but great friends, our impact on her life more of a safe haven and safety net. We would never let her go hungry; we would never let her live on the streets. If she is sick and needs a ride to the clinic to see a doctor, someone in our family would pick her up and drive her. If she needed help paying her portion of the utilities we would likely help there, too. But in the 5+ years we have been friends, we have received exactly 2 requests for direct help: after an interview ran long and she missed the last bus home and when she went into labor and needed a ride to the hospital. The times she has eaten dinner with us and I insisted she take the leftovers (and then some) home or slipped $20 into her jacket pocket do not count.

But mentors? Us? From dictionary.com – mentor: a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

Yep, I suppose we are that, even if we never aspired to be anything more supportive friends. I feel kind of proud of us in that role. She’s younger that my children by a few years, and in so many ways she has become part of our family. In the spring she will graduate from community college with her AA degree and then begin the process of LVN certification. Hopefully she will also be accepted into the state school’s nursing program for fall. Her hope is to qualify for and land a hospital job somewhere. It’s daunting, the next phase of schooling, getting loans, trying to figure out how to make due with even less money to study hard and continue her progress.

From throwaway teenager to now, she’s come so far, and I am so proud of her, so blessed and so proud to have been witness to this journey, maybe even contributed a tiny bit to her success. Her dreams are modest – to be able to afford a beater car, to have her own room in a shared apartment, an iPhone with a data plan. She has never truly understood how much I appreciate her, how she keeps me grounded, reminds me to be thankful for all I could take for granted, how far my own journey from a devastating childhood to the rich life I have now.

M and I believe she overstates our importance in her journey thus far, but that’s us. She believes what she wants to believe, and it is positive and flattering so we will not protest any further. People come into our lives and leave their imprints on us. Too often I think about the negatives, the bad ones who caused unbearable hurt and damage that scarred deeply. Tonight it’s nice to think about and celebrate one who lifts my heart and makes me feel good just because she is part of my life.

 

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