This last four days I’ve been deep in the woods and water of Ontario. I was spending time with a man I first met in fifth grade at Earle Brown Elementary School. He was my teacher then and still is today … some 50 years later.
Joe used to smuggle art books into school for me, from his own collection. Rembrandt, DaVinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, and my personal favorite Michelangelo were all represented and invited to share their secrets. The wonders of the world, the human form and the mysteries of the “artistic eye” became a portal and a possibility. I was glad to follow him on these journeys of insight.
Joe is the kind of man who made time for me when I don’t believe I had anyone else to speak to or confide in. My father, a hard-working carpenter was a good man but often crude and lacking any kind of emotional vocabulary. As a sensitive young boy I don’t imagine he knew what to do with me. Joe,on the other hand, taught me something about the power of “being seen”.
For me that is a powerful story in and of itself, but, it doesn’t stop there. For all the years Joe taught – and in the years since, Joe has been able to, (even compelled to) “see” boys and girls of all colors, sizes, personalities and needs. Children on the margins. This is so much the case that it is, in fact, difficult to go anywhere with him in public without him being seen and embraced with vigor and affection by a former student, their parent or grandparent.
For the last seven years, I have been involved with an organization called Boys To Men Mentoring. We have, most recently, been sitting with young men and women in a local correctional facility. This is a topic I often get to discuss with Joe for his perspective. In these moments, this man, upon hearing of the need, anger and sadness of young people whose parents are emotionally unavailable, lost in their own drug haze, in prison, or, sometimes deported, I can see Joe’s face change as he wonders if he’s done enough. The need is so great AND positive, grounded, authentic men are so very hard to come by.
I snapped this picture a few days ago as I followed Joe into the woods yet again. This time as we made our way to check a minnow seine for fresh bait. The learning and technology are simple; quietness, tenacity, and a keen awareness of our surroundings pay dividends. A bald eagle is spotted, a loon dives, the carcass of a raccoon with it’s ringed tail still intact tells its own bony story. The seine is full of wet, flapping swaths of iridescent silver and dutch blue, which curiously give way to northern pike and tomorrow’s lunch.
In my day to day life I study and work to increase my awareness of leadership, honing my own ability to lead. I recognize, too, my hope and desire to be able to FOLLOW this man Joe, for many years to come.