Paradise emerges around us in hints and glimpses.
For half my life,
with all my heart
and mind, I have cherished
being schooled, guided,
and loved, in return, by
an incomparable mentor.
In mid-March Associate Professor Emerita of Theatre, Pat Stien, and I celebrated St. Pat’s Day with buttery scones and Irish poems. In her ninth decade, her mastery as an oral interpreter of literature still shone.
A knock interrupted.
Two well-meaning young women, one dressed as a leprechaun, pushed through the door with a rolling cart bearing little sacks of candy. And . . . a very yellow, giant, inflatable, rubber duck.
Are you kidding? I wanted to shout. Do you have any idea who this is?
Pat, however, smiled. Listened carefully. No need to defend or assert her fine intelligence. No desire to establish her reputation or myriad credentials. She may have eyed The Duck but made no comment.
Mildly, she took the sweets they offered. “Thank you so much,” she said, with her trademark chuckle. “My favorites.”
The leprechaun and the keeper of the duck, noticeably calmed by Pat’s gratitude and luminous presence, left.
I remained. Gently instructed, yet again.
This week I read poems and scripture to Pat in Hospice House as she slept. I longed to connect one last time, to meet that clear gaze, to feel the answering squeeze of her narrow hand.
She slept on, peacefully, for which I give thanks. Sometimes we have to trust that the words we speak and the little songs we offer during a vigil register in our loved one’s spirit.
I’ve savored a long, vibrant relationship with Pat. But a role model’s influence on us may be fleeting in actual time — and inspiring, lifelong.
A mentor is a God-given largesse, often many-layered, always divinely timed. In my case, a second mother. Colleague. Friend. Director. Teacher. Sister in Christ.
“When the peaks of our sky come together
my house will have a roof.”
So wrote French poet, Paul Éluard, in Dignes de vivre (lit. “worthy of life”).
Am I a sheltering house of wisdom and encouragement for others? Are you, dear readers?
Pat Stien indelibly communicated God’s love. Every place and time we met, over almost four decades, brimmed with laughter, music, stories, prayers, and the communion of like-minded souls.
Here’s the last poem I read to her, one she loved, by Emily Dickinson. I hope it speaks to you as well.
“I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise – ”
Friends, have you flourished under the rich oversight of a teacher/mentor? The mention of their names and expertise in the comments below would allow us all to thank God with you for their influence in your life.
You might also enjoy my tribute to Pat’s husband, Howard Stien.
Photo by Suzanne Foust