Note: Unlike most of the things I write, this is not based on one factual occurrence. Instead, it is a composite of many experiences.
I have been given the instructions to mentor you. I have been given neat little packets that tell me the words to say.
“What do you want to be?”
“A mechanical engineer,” you answer.
“Great! Write that down!”
I glimpse at your sheet and see the words “megin engineer.”
You are in tenth grade. You are pimply, bright, optimistic, witty, and beautiful. But you can’t spell “mechanical.” I wouldn’t be bothered by it–“mechanical” is a hard word–except that word you spelled isn’t even phonetically close. And that’s when the gravity of the situation comes crashing down on me.
The neat little packets don’t know you.
I realize that you don’t need a mentor. You need a leader. You don’t need to be asked “What do you want to be?” You need to be asked “What combination of letters put together can also make the “k” sound?” Both questions are important, and you will get to both. You can even ask the first while you are asking the second, but the second should be present, too. You need someone to tell you each and every step for a while. Eventually, you will grow out of that. But right now, you need someone to help you.
You are everywhere. You are always in my head. You are perpetually getting off the bus that I’m stopped behind. You are in the group of kids sitting in the local coffee shop. You are on the playground when I walk by at lunch time.
You are everywhere. Today you were in Detroit. And I had a mini panic attack when I woke up because I thought I should get on an airplane and fly to you immediately. Yesterday you were in Appalachia, and I could have driven to you. The day before that you were in Atlanta, and I was afraid of the culture shock. Tomorrow you will be in New Mexico, and the arid heat will feel new and foreign against my skin.
Sometimes you jump across the ocean, where, the experts tell me, you know how to spell “mechanical,” but you can’t think critically about whether becoming a mechanical engineer will be a good occupation for you.
All this to say that you are constantly living in the back of my mind. I’m often guilty that I’m not with you.
When I go to being the mentor, I know how little it is. How it’s hardly anything at all. But right now, it’s all I can do.
I’m coming, wherever you are, I’m coming.