The follow-up email came last week, "we are still in need of mentors for our program." I was about to delete the message when I notice one of Angela Maiers tweets hanging on another browser tab. I could hear her voice, "Be brave. Help someone else be brave. You matter. We all matter." Angela would be disappointed, and I would be hypocritical if I ignored this opportunity to make a difference.
I responded to the email, "I'm in. You can count on me." I promptly received a reply of gratitude along with a request to invite my mentee, Robert, to share a pizza in the Principal's conference room during his lunch period. I sent an email introduction to Robert and then went to meet him during his homeroom period. As fate, or luck, would have it, I had previously met Robert. He and another student needed a faculty sponsor for an e-sports club start up. We are presently working through the details.
Still unsure if I can fully commit to being a mentor, I figure let's meet for lunch and see how it goes. Thursday, third period, and Robert already has a paper plate full of pepperoni pizza, and a can of Pepsi when I arrive. I follow suit by filling up my plate with slices of sausage pizza, edges. After a brief greeting, we discuss the merits of pizza slices, edges versus middles. A sheet of canned questions is provided so Robert and I can get to know each other better. "Where do you live? How did you get your name? What do you like to do for fun?", and so on.
I learn Robert doesn't particularly enjoy school. With the exception of Spanish class, he is getting good grades. He isn't involved in any extracurricular activities, but he is taking a leadership role in organizing an e-sports club. He will be getting his driver's license in a few months, and he's thinking about applying for a part-time job. He spends most of his time playing video games. I am taking notes as Robert shares his background and interests. In some respects, he is very similar to my own children. I ask, "Robert, what are you most proud of? What are you good at?"
"I am good at playing video games.", he says.
I am ignorantly categorizing Robert as a loner as our conversation shifts to discussing our families. I ask Robert who he confides in when he has a problem or just needs to talk. Robert answers, "My dad, and my two older brothers."
Still taking notes, I ask him, "What's the most difficult challenge you've had to deal with?"
"My mom died last year. My dog died too. My grandma died recently.", he said.
I set down my pencil, scrambling in my mind for the right words. Inside, I was thinking "oh my God!", instead, I said, "Robert, I am so sorry. I had no idea. I can't image how difficult that must be. How are you doing? What can I do for you?"
After sharing a brief story about his mother's bout with cancer, Robert mentions his own battle with depression. He acknowledges living day to day, some good, and some not so good. We break the tension by getting more pizza. We both like the pizza. I make small talk with Robert. It's pleasant, but not insightful. I'm not a gamer, so I'm trying to find a common place to connect with him.
"Have you traveled anywhere? Do you like traveling?", I ask.
Robert mentions vacationing up at his uncle's lodge in northern Minnesota. Boom, a door swings open! I mention spending my childhood summers up in northern Minnesota with my family and friends. "I bet you like to go fishing.", I say.
Robert replies, "I like it when I catch a fish."
"Of course, who doesn't like catching a fish?!?", I shout. The rest of the pairs look over to see what all of the excitement is about. I ask Robert if there are any good fishing spots near our school. He doesn't know, but he thinks there might be. I tell him we'll find at least one.
"Robert, how would you like to go fishing with me and my sons?", I ask.
And for the first time, I see him smile with a gleam in his eyes, "I don't know if I have a pole at home."
"Shoot Rob, I've got about a dozen. I will bring one for you to use. If it catches fish, you keep it.", I tell him.
We then announce to the room that we are planning a fishing trip, and suddenly everyone wants in on the action. Robert chuckles under his breath.
As we're cleaning up our plates, getting ready to leave, Robert says, "Thank you for having lunch with me."
"You made my day Robert! I am looking forward to getting to know you. And of course, catching some fish!", I say as we head off to our fourth-period classes. We've agreed to meet weekly to discuss school, life, video games, and fishing.
I'm smiling as I head back to my office, I think about Angela Maiers and her request to be brave so others can be brave with us. I learned more from Robert's courage than he did from mine. I almost let a list of selfish excuses get in the way of what matters most.
The Power of A Hug - Joe Harper
Transformation Through Heartbreak - Silvia Zanatta / Angela Maiers
Images: Pixabay CC0 Public Domain