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January 04, 2019

Meeting Each Other Where We're At

A story in celebration of "I Am a Mentor Day."

It is well known that mentors have an impact on their mentees' lives, but what about the other way around? This month is National Mentoring Month, and our Friend (Professional Mentor), Michael*, is reflecting on the ways his youth have enhanced his own world.

My second-grader, Jaquan*, has a knack for making other kids laugh. He doesn’t often have the opportunity to interact with other kids his age in a way that encourages positive relationship building, so his idea of playing with other kids generally means ‘I’ll put on a show for the other kids to laugh about.'

One afternoon, I brought Jaquan to hang out with another one of my youth Eli*. When presented with failure, Eli has a tendency to spiral towards a dejected emotional state that isolates him from others. Eli’s brothers and friends will often try to distract him and act silly in order to cheer him up, leaving him to neglect practicing managing his own emotions.

The two started playing a game of frisbee together, but Eli soon began to scrutinize any imperfections in his own performance, accusing the rules of being rigged and tearing down Jaquan’s game skills with every incomplete pass. Eli threw himself to the ground in tears, burying his head in the grass while yelling in protest. The whole process repeated a few different times before Eli stormed off to sit quietly by himself with his hood up and face down.

Soon after, Jaquan sat down next to Eli and asked him what was wrong. In tears, Eli said he was upset that no one cared about his feelings. Without hesitation, Jaquan put his arm around Eli and told him that he cared and that he was there for him. The whole time I sat back, observing the situation and marveled at Jaquan’s ability to leave his jokes behind, knowing that Eli didn’t need to hear another. After a moment, Jaquan asked Eli if he wanted to share more of why he was upset. Eli responded by shaking his head. With his arm still around Eli, Jaquan responded that it was okay that he didn’t want to talk more about it and invited him to come back and play when he was ready.

I would later reflect on how Jaquan was looking for an opportunity to connect with someone in a positive way without having to entertain them and that Eli was just looking for someone to be there for him in sadness rather than in laughter. Watching the two of them figure out a way to connect with one another reminded me about the purity of friendships and that no matter who you are, everyone has the ability to connect with one another. We all just need to meet each other where we’re at.