About a year ago, I came to a realization that would eventually have a significant impact on me emotionally. This is how it happened. I visit my cousin, Nelson, and his wife, Sally on a fairly regular basis on Sunday nights. After an awesome meal, we usually sit outside for a cigar, a drink, and conversation. If it’s winter, the outside fireplace is lit. If it’s not, well, then, we just endure the humidity like everyone else. At some point in every conversation, we usually end up reminiscing about the good old days, when we were younger and life seemed simpler. We talk about our parents and grandparents, trips to our favorite place, Grand Isle, and everything that our parents tried to teach and pass on to us. My Dad and Nelson’s Mom were brother and sister. They are now both deceased, along with his dad and all of our grandparents. At one point, the conversation went silent. Then my cousin made a statement. He said, “you realize now that the two of us are the patriarchs of this family.” There was no arrogance with that. None at all. It was a simple acknowledgment that our responsibilities would, perhaps, be different now. As we talked, it became clear that what we both desired and felt a responsibility for was to preserve what had been handed down to us. The customs, the practices, the values. But the question then arose, “what about is? Who are our patriarchs? Our mentors?”
Driving home that night, I realized that the mentor dynamic in my personal life had changed significantly. I still have my Mom, but, as I mentioned, my Dad has passed, all of my grandparents too, and 2 other key mentors in my life have died of cancer, one right after the other. There are a couple of others to whom I have looked for guidance and mentorship, but they are experiencing some health issues that have changed the dynamics of those relationships also. “So, what’s a guy to do?” I thought, “when all of your mentors are gone?” According to one source, a mentor is defined as, “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” (www.dictionary.com)
If it is commonly accepted that a mentor is someone significantly older than you, then, I’m not sure who mine are. For me this has always been the kind of relationship that you cannot force. In my experience, the real mentor relationship has to happen naturally. It has to be something (and someone) with whom you are comfortable. As priests, we “assign” mentors to our younger priests. That’s a good idea, I think, but ideally you’d choose your own. As of now, my counsel comes mainly from my peers: my brother, my brother-in-law, one of our deacons, and a couple of friends and priests close to my age. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good counsel, just not the same.
As I bring this blog to a close, it occurs to me that what I might really be struggling with is simply the reality that we’re all growing older. My cousin’s statement to me about “being patriarchs” was pretty sobering. I miss the old days, and, respectfully, I miss “the old people” too. But here’s the thing: we’re not the only ones growing older. We’re all in it together. As life progresses, so too does our role. The “baton” of mentoring is, perhaps, passed to us. But, in the end, whether we seek counsel from someone older than us or not, the crucial thing is that we do in fact seek it.
We are never too old to reach out for wisdom.