I have been thinking about mentors lately, after seeing a book by Russell Brand, titled “Mentors, How to Help and be Helped”. You may wonder what Russell Brand has to say on the matter, but he is a deep thinker, and has been through much in his own life. In the book he explores the idea of mentoring and shares what he’s learned from the guidance of his own helpers, heroes and mentors.
It made me start to think of my own life and who has influenced and inspired me.
I have been lucky, for I have had incredible mentors that have helped to shape who I am and what I have achieved.
Funnily enough they are mostly all men, and I am not sure that’s because my father died when I was young and was hardly a mentor when he was alive! Or maybe it’s because I have always worked in a male dominated area?
Anyway, when I think back I can name three who were very influential, either in my science journey, my faith journey or for life in general.
Let me reflect on them a little bit.
My first mentor was at UWA, when I was just a young physical education student, wondering whether I would teach or do something else. Brian offered me a teaching role in his anatomy course when I was a budding second year student, led me down the path of a Masters in the Anatomy and Human Biology Department, and a lifelong love of human biology. He was my supervisor for my research, but more than that gave me the confidence and opportunity to thrive in that environment, in his quiet gentle way. I am still teaching at UWA, on a casual basis and still love it.
My second came after I decided that I had been at the Uni far too long and had to get a real job. Ed was the head of a department at RPH that I joined as a research assistant and then as a scientific officer, involving research for scoliosis assessment, the spinal injured and in gait analysis and orthopaedics. He was visionary, supportive and fun, dynamic and enthusiastic, and never doubted that his staff could do the job. My time with him enabled me to flourish and try new things, while always having his support. I stayed on and off for many years, yet ultimately I moved on to other areas and another department, and he moved on to be higher up in admin. Yet I never forgot his guidance in those early days.
Currently I am back in that same department writing up some research, which shows how things can go in a circle sometimes.
The final mentor I would like to mention, is from a completely different area. When I was involved in anatomy teaching and preparing specimens for the classes, I started to explore the issue of God and faith. Easy to do when you are chopping up dead people! This led me to a progressive liberal church in Wembley Downs which had as its spiritual leader, a minister who was involved in the peace movement and in in social justice. He saw faith as something you lived out rather than just believed and was open, inclusive, welcoming and provocative with his ideas about Christianity. My type of minister as I never grasped or accepted much of the traditional Christian doctrine of the church.
Over the years Nev has been extremely generous with his knowledge, resources, time and has supported me as I initially came and went from the church, then came and stayed, started doing a few services and am now employed by the church as a pastor 2 days a week. Along with his beautiful wife Marg, they have been my friends for over 30 years, confidantes and people who I could share my faith journey with.
Along the way Nev generously taught me the art of taking baptisms, weddings, funerals, communion, in fact everything that goes along with being the church in the community. He has encouraged me to stand beside him as we took them together, then has stepped out the way as I take over the bulk of the service. He has guided me in the ways of the faith, without becoming a cog in the church machinery, allowing me to be free to be who I am and with what I believe.
More than anything, Nev has been my mentor in helping me grow a faith I can live in and with, without forgoing my love of science and my joy of research. He preached that a full life is a life lived as a whole person, integrating all aspects of ourselves. They must all go together for us to be healthy and well. A great message.
I reflect particularly on Nev, as I am still in close contact with him, and because this past week, I have had to lead both a funeral and a wedding for his family.
He stood beside me on both occasions and as I reflected on his influence on my life, I felt both love and gratitude for the man who is now 90, and maybe slowing down just a bit! I know it is my turn to take up the reigns, but in a way that honours and respect him.
In our modern, fast paced society, where many contacts are electronic, I believe we all need mentors, especially when we are young. People who support and encourage us and help us to become individuals in our own right. Who help us to develop our gifts and talents so that we can in turn become leaders. It inspires me to continue to teach and work with young people, whether that be at the university or in and out of the church or even in my own extended family and friends. I hope I can be a mentor to others, in some small way, that reflects the mentoring that I have had.
Thanks Brian, Ed, and Nev. Good job!