Well over thirty years ago, I sat in my high school music class pondering the meaning of why I was there. I had my whole life ahead of me and didn’t know better. I didn’t know better because prior to that, I’d gotten into heaps of trouble with the schools I had attended but not enough to constitute a criminal record. Thank goodness. Had I not smartened up, I’m sure I would have ended up on the street somewhere doing who knows what.
I had help. My high school music teacher was one of my mentors throughout the length of my stay there at the insane asylum. He was a bulk of a man, tree stumps for arms and a thick neck. He also was Romanian. Not that it mattered to other students, but it mattered to me, considering I had a huge crush on gymnast Nadia Comaneci at the time, and he came from the same area of Romania she did. So naturally, I gravitated toward his instruction and put him on a pedestal.
His name doesn’t matter either. Suffice it to know he influenced me in ways that even today bewilders me. “Hey, so-and-so used to say that,” I would say to myself whenever I’d do something he would have approved.
His approach to life was a simple one—be the best you can be without being a goof about it. His words. If you expected something dramatic, that’s as dramatic as it got. His intention was to instill courage into every student, and never to be afraid of making a difference in the world.
Before becoming a teacher, he escaped communism from which he experienced firsthand the persecution of his family by those less intelligent than he. When he immigrated to Canada, his goal was to live a peaceable life. Eventually, his reputation as a perfectionist in the field of music preceded him and my future high school offered him a position as a teacher.
Students like me flocked to his classes simply from word of mouth. They were not easy classes to get into, and they were not what anyone expected. His philosophy of marrying music with life lessons made him the most popular teacher in the school. The courses were worth an extra half credit for those lucky enough to have him accept their entrance application.
From the onset of taking one of his classes, he made it plain that students who did not give one hundred percent of their attitude toward the class would not pass. To him, skill wasn’t what mattered. It was attitude. He used to say
“You can teach an ape to do anything, but it is very difficult to teach attitude to a human.”
Many kids came and went through his doors. Those with problems, he personally helped with encouraging words. I landed on the student council believing I was capable of more than what I had shown him.
After graduating high school, I visited my music teacher several times to see how he was doing. He was his cranky old self, teasing his students to sit up straight, and pay attention while I distracted him with simple stories of my effort with living a peaceable life.
Eventually though, we lost touch. However, by that time, I didn’t consider him a mentor anymore but a friend.
I miss my friend.
Have you had a mentor in life? What ever became of them? What do you think of the mentoring others for their betterment?