Robert Haydon Jones
and Greg Lippert

Greg Lippert
Inspiration piece

Mentoring
By Robert Haydon Jones
Response

The three 12-year old Latina girls were holding up matching bracelets and smiling at the camera like they really cared for the person who was taking their picture.

For years, Jimmy had told anyone who would listen that he was the biggest beneficiary of the mentoring program he delivered every Tuesday afternoon to a sixth-grade class at the new school in the bad neighborhood in his city.

Most of these children came from poor, single-parent families. Almost all of them had relatives in jail. Or in gangs. Or both. The girls were ahead of the boys. They were already super wary. The boys were still mostly kids. Some of the boys were already being recruited by gangs, but, even so, they had a year, maybe two years of childhood left. For the girls, childhood was long gone.

When Jimmy first appeared, obstensibly to read stories to the class, the children reacted like he was another grown up enemy. He had enough experience to not take it personally. He just read stories to them for a while. And they liked that. He was a dynamite reader. He had an AFTRA card.

After a few sessions, he started to talk to them a little after he read a story. He talked about his life. He was a writer. He was a former Marine. He had a child in his thirties who was disabled and lived in a group home with his wife who was also disabled.

Jimmy was a high school baseball umpire. At the end of every session, he gave out extra, unused, pearly-white, game-balls two or three at a time. Only three of the 27 kids in the class played baseball, but they all loved the balls.

At the end of each session, two students would walk Jimmy out to the parking lot. He used the time to try to get to know them better. How many brothers and sisters? Did they walk to school? Would they like him to bring a book on something?

By the time June rolled around, Jimmy was tight with most of the class. There were always a few hold-outs, but most of the kids liked Jimmy for the simple reason that he was one of the very few people in the world who had any interest in them. He liked them and they liked him. It felt good.

During each session, Jimmy used his i-Phone to take portraits of the kids. Two or three every week. He carefully selected the photos and put them in a fancy frame. Then after his last session of the year, he would give each child a framed portrait. This year he would also give the three girls extra framed photos of them as a threesome showing off their matching bracelets.

Jimmy’s wife told him she thought the children really appreciated the framed photos. Jimmy hoped she was right – but he suspected that for most of the class, the framed portraits would serve their family over the years as a frame of reference. The photos were easy. The frames cost money.

He looked again at the shot on his i-Phone of the three girls. They were 12, going on 13, going on 25. Jimmy could see the grown woman in each of them. Where would they be in 20 years? If they ever looked at the old photo in the fancy frame, would they remember who had taken it?

He wondered: Does anybody really remember anything?

He had been talking up awareness to the class all year. How you could live your life asleep or awake. Aware or dim. He had cautioned them it wasn’t easy. In this time of hand-held instant reference and myriad digital hideouts, it was harder than ever to focus on anything.

The night before his last session with the class, he looked at their photos again. This time he really looked hard at each portrait. Each child seemed to radiate an inner light – like the portraits of the old masters. At first, he marveled at the excellence of his i-Phone. Then he looked again. Every child had the light – the inner beauty of a masterpiece.

He was shocked. He had been asleep! Dim. He hadn’t really been awake. These children were beautiful. Each child radiated beauty. He was dismayed he hadn’t seen it.

He went from photo to photo to check. They weren’t all happy – but they were all beautiful.

The boys and the girls.

He was stunned and embarrassed. He had preached awareness to these children every week for a full school year and yet, until now, he had never really seen them.

He brought their framed photos (and one of Sally Kelly, their young, first-year teacher) in a carton for distribution at day’s end. Right before he left for the last time, he told them that he had been looking at their photos as he put them in the frame and that he was mighty impressed by how good they looked.

“You look good because you are good,” he said.

The next day the teacher emailed him. She wrote the kids loved their framed photos, as did she. She hoped Jimmy would come next year and work with her new class. Jimmy replied he would.

Looking back, Jimmy was sure he had gotten more out of this year of mentoring than anyone. He still felt a twinge of embarrassment at his blindness. He had preached awareness with his eyes wide shut!

On impulse, he checked his i-Phone for his photo of Ms. Kelly, the teacher. He hadn’t looked at it the day before when he had done the careful review of the shots of the kids that had opened his eyes.

Once again, he was startled. Ms. Kelly radiated beauty just as the children had. The same inner light. Not from a child. From a young woman.

Once again, Jimmy felt a surge of embarrassment. He had been so blind!

Yet all he had to do was to look.

From now on, if he could manage to stay awake, there was a world of beauty to see.

—————————————

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8 Comments

  1. Jack Orth
    Posted June 27, 2016 at 4:51 am | #

    RHJ reminds me of a great baseball player–very seldom strikes out, and when he go’s to the plate (His writing chair!)–great results follow! This simple piece he wrote should be read by millions–because the simple act by Jimmy, of helping others should be read by all of us! Read between the lines too–it says that Jimmy loves what he does and wants to share that love with others. If only the world would take a page from Jimmy and pass along happiness to each other. Go Jimmy!

  2. Posted June 27, 2016 at 5:37 am | #

    He captures something important in very few words–something that all of us can bring to our interactions not just with children, but with anyone.

  3. Dave Monroe
    Posted June 27, 2016 at 6:50 am | #

    Sensitive story about how the beauty of life can flash right by us unless we’re wide awake. Seeing is simple, not easy. Looking out my window now to see what I’ve missed of the morning.

  4. Ed Lambertson
    Posted June 28, 2016 at 7:14 am | #

    A wonderful glimpse of the “giver” receiving the gift of giving.

  5. Charles DeFanti
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 12:51 pm | #

    Memoria vitae bene actae iucunda est. (The memory of a well-lived life is pleasant).

  6. John H. Tucker
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm | #

    Through this simple gem, the reader follows Jimmy’s lead by opening his eyes. A lot to see! The writer has the batter’s eye. (I also owe him a call.)

  7. Chris Egan
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:35 pm | #

    Once again, out of the park! A gentle lesson to all to take the time to look…to listen.

  8. Tony Anthony
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 2:28 pm | #

    Gotta love this story. With the first line you drop into Jone’s mind and wonder where he’s going to take you. You keep wondering as you read and are surprised when you reach the destination.

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