One of the true joys of long-standing friendships is that political correctness and faux conversations become unnecessary. For me, such friendships are central parts of the true joy of life. In the dreary landscape of grayness – of acquaintances – a virtual friends – of pseudo-friends – of meaningless and neutered rituals, these wonderfully varied and nuanced flowers grow and bloom. Their aroma is heady indeed.
Recently, a friend of some three decades asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink. “If the first round is on you,” was my reply. We’ve known each other long enough and been down enough roads together to know that as shorthand for, “anytime, anyplace.”
Having settled into one of our favorite watering holes, got the drinks delivered and lit up – he a cigar and me a pipe – I looked over, grinned and. “Just tell me where it hurts you babe and I’ll tell you who to call.”
“So, you’re the Mighty Quinn?”
“I have been, and always shall be, your friend,” I replied. “So now that we have paid homage to Bob Dylan and Star Trek, what’s the itch in your shorts?”
A hefty hit on the drink and a long contemplative draw on the cigar later, he said, “You know how I value having a mentor. I’ve always believed that having guidance from someone who has lived more of life than I have can make a big difference in my life. But, Chief I just don’t seem to be able to establish a relationship with that kind of mentor.”
“I’ve been introduced to a couple of the people you thought were mentors. I was not impressed. I think you must decide if you have the balls to engage with a real mentor. Otherwise, you might as well sit on the sidelines and watch the world go by.”
“Ah, come on! Both Helen and Jack are good people with valuable life experience. I thought I could learn from them.”
“Look Ferd, here are some rules to live by. Never eat at a restaurant named Ma’s. Never play cards with a man whose nickname is Doc. And never enter into a relationship with a woman who has more problems than you do.”
That brought a quick response. “But there are people who refer to you as Doc!”
“Yes,” I replied, “but most of them won’t play cards with me anymore.”
After the laughter subsided and the drinks were refreshed, my friend looked over and said, “So, you think I’ve been selecting mentors who are safe, will not challenge me and who have more problems than I do?”
“That’s it,” I replied. “You need to have the courage to open yourself up to someone who can add to your life. You done that with your wife. How or why she puts up with you is beyond me. But then I can say the same about myself. You need to do the same with a mentor. How about a bit of verse by Antonio Machado?”
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
‘In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.’
‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’
‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’
“No one whose life is principally regret is going to be able to help you. If their flowers have died for whatever reason, choosing to ask for their help might be the safe option but, in the long run, you will end up with the same “withered petals and yellow leaves.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent by two friends who know each other well and no longer have to engage in the pretenses of virtual friendship. It was two months later that I found out that he had asked one of my ‘elder statesman’ friends to help them along his life’s journey.
The point of this story is that the decisions you make in asking for help more often than not presage the results you will experience. If you are looking for a mentor, find one whose office plants have not died.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD