A moment can change everything...so wait for it

September 12th, 2016

Hope is easy to share. At least that’s what Karen, a retired but still energetic administrator in Iowa discovered.

She said yes to volunteer as a mentor based on two facts: first, she had time to spend an hour every week at a local elementary school, and second, that school needed more mentors than they had the year before. Apparently, there’s no shortage of students who need positive adult relationships. Clearly, this woman is well-informed.

So following the application, interview process, and training, Karen received a call from the program director that a little girl at school needed a mentor. She could start right away.

This second-grade student came to school each day wearing a downcast face and refusing to acknowledge people. Even when addressed up close and personally, she offered no response. In fact, she developed deftness at avoiding all eye contact. Instead, she feigned interest in the floor, the wall, a window. After weeks of the teacher’s earnest efforts — and similar determination from various specialists — making no progress, the school principal offered a suggestion: let’s request a mentor to meet with her.

So just a few days following her call to active duty, Karen stood at the door of a second-grade classroom, wondering which girl she was destined to meet. Taking deep, deliberate breaths to minimize the appearance of any nervousness, she remembered to smile. Are the schools always this warm, or is today unusual? Who cares; she kept smiling.

Soon the teacher noticed the clearly enthused, slightly nervous lady in the doorway and brought the young girl to meet her mentor.

“You will spend time together every week,” the teacher explained.

No response.

“Hi Mia,” said Karen. “I’m excited to meet you.”

Mia still offered no response.

Before they left the doorway, the teacher handed Karen a sheet of spelling words. “You can try to have her practice writing.”

Karen and Mia walked through two hallways, a silent 35-second journey. When they arrived at a vacant office reserved for them, Mia quickly sat in the closest chair at the table as Karen turned on the lights. She walked around the table to sit in the other chair, her back facing the window. She asked Mia several ice-breaker questions learned during her mentor training. No response. The young girl occasionally looked out the window, evading any and all connection attempts. Even on this unusually warm day, the ice refused to thaw.

Question: What’s the right thing to do when you show up for someone and nothing happens?

Answer: Stay, wait, and see.

So Karen relaxed, breathing slowly and quietly so Mia would not sense any frustration. Remain in a situation long enough without trying to control it, she reasoned, and room will open for a special moment to arrive.

And indeed it did; triggered by a tender, divinely inspired question.

“Mia, has anyone ever told you that you have beautiful eyes?”

No response — at first. Then slowly, as though dumbfounded by what she had heard, Mia’s gaze lifted from the spelling word sheet on the table. Her eyes met Karen’s. And a single tear formed.

Before it had a chance to spill down her cheek, Mia quick-stepped from her chair and wrapped her arms around Karen’s neck. As she hugged her mentor, between alternating breaths and sobs, she described how everyone at home ruthlessly makes fun of her and that she feels lonely all day every day and she spends all night in her room and nobody at school talks to her and now some kids make fun of her and she has no idea why any of this is the way it is.

And no, no one had ever told her she has beautiful eyes.

But Karen did. Immediately, the two bonded. Over the following weeks, and with plenty of encouragement, Mia opened up to others.

A life can change in a moment. Especially when someone shows up and remains willing to stay around long enough for that moment to happen — maybe within a few minutes … maybe over a few months … maybe even longer.

Be available, let moments happen, and then watch what takes place.

Excerpt from the book Show Up: Step out of your story and into someone else’s (Dust Jacket Press, 2016) by David Staal.

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