When my most recent birthday catapulted me into a new decade of life, my younger daughter bought me a cairn. This small vertical tower of seven round taupe stones is an elegant version of the rock sculptures that hikers create to show others the path to follow on a trail. My daughter thought it would be nice for it to sit on my desk to remind me of “all I have accomplished thus far and how I have shown others the way.”
Like cairns, mentors have guided me throughout my life. I often refer to them as gurus because they tend to be both spiritual and intellectual guides. Bob Morris, the founder and former director of Interweave, a center for holistic living in Short Hills, New Jersey, has been one of my most important mentors for many decades. Whether through guided mediation classes or personal one-on-one conversations, he has always led me to be constructively introspective, more perceptive, and at least a little wiser about taking a wider, more flexible view of the world.
Some of the maxims I have learned from him echo in my mind on a regular basis, steering me away from unnecessary anxiety and negative thinking. One of my favorites is, “The path to wholeness is filled with scars.” Bob explains that as time passes, these scars become less painful, but every so often, a life event will lead us to bump up against them, and they will hurt once again. And that’s no cause to panic. Because it’s all part of the process of living.
When the 1960s anti-materialism hippie in me became unsettled by the fact that I was moving to a rather wealthy suburb, Bob said, “Just tell yourself you are Lonye Rasch who happens to live in Short Hills.” The distinction helped me avoid getting hung up on a rather limiting identity that I had crafted for myself.
When people say, “I am not myself today,” as they often do, Bob asks, “Then who are you?” He nudges us to see that there are multiple I’s within all of us. And then he reassures us that it’s ok if some of them are not so wonderful.
When I became a volunteer leader in Hadassah, my mentor extraordinaire was Ellen Meth, who, sadly, has passed away. Elegant and ever so perceptive, Ellen had a work ethic that I was drawn to emulate. When I think back to how I would discuss Hadassah business with her at 11:00 o’clock at night, despite my fatigue after a busy day of writing and mothering, I realize it was because Ellen awoke within me a passion for excellence. It was just waiting for someone to inspire it into gear. Ellen also taught me how to meet people where they were, rather than impose my expectations on them.
My aunt Essie, now 91 years old, has been a magnificent life mentor too. “Better to have and not need than to need and not have,” she likes to say. That piece of advice has led me to have at least double the amount of food I need whenever I entertain.
Another great saying of hers is, “Before you marry, you look over; once you marry, you overlook.” In the interest of transparency, I must admit that one is a challenge to live by.
While I never think of myself as a guru or wise woman, I have mentored colleagues through my volunteer work in Hadassah. When I was the Communications Coordinator for Hadassah International, I had the privilege to mentor our new young Communications Manager, Tamar Davis.
Bright and talented, she had an extraordinary ability to discern quickly what was needed. Tamar says I set her up for success at Hadassah, but it was really her perceptiveness and character, I think, that led her to become a cherished employee from the very beginning. Tamar eventually went on to become Chief Development Officer for another nonprofit and I love watching her do well in her career. We remain close friends and I value whatever part I may have played in helping her recognize how special she is.
Speaking of special, I knew early on that Debby Mazon had great leadership potential. As she tells me now, I saw in her something that she, herself, did not necessarily see. When as Hadassah Northern New Jersey Region president I asked her to be my Organization Vice President (OVP)—a stepping stone to the presidency—she told me she had a full-time job and did not think she had the time or focus to be the next Region President. Debby reminds me that I replied, “Having 60 percent of you is like having 100 percent of someone else.”
How true it was! Debby was a terrific partner to me as OVP and then a wonderful Region president. Later, she accepted higher-level roles within National Hadassah, while continuing to work full-time, most currently as Human Resources Director for her family company. I have always been in awe of Debby’s ability to juggle so many things without sacrificing dedication to excellence and creativity.
As the years have gone by, Debby and I have become close friends, mentoring each other through life’s challenges, whether generated by our husbands, Hadassah, motherhood or grandparenting.
Speaking of grandparenting: what an open field of mentoring possibilities lies there! Just this past Thanksgiving, I was at my cousin’s house with my almost three-year-old granddaughter, Pearl. She began taking coasters in and out of a basket. I suggested a better game. I explained that we needed to use our imaginations because, unlike in her books, there were no words on the coasters to help us. She seemed captivated by the notion. So, I chose a coaster—one that had a drawing of a basket of flowers. “Once upon a time,” I began, “there was a lonely basket that decided to find some flowers to keep it company… .” When it was her turn, Pearl chose a coaster with a large tulip in the middle. “Once upon a time,” she said, “there was a girl who had a flower in the middle of her forehead… .” I had opened up a new avenue of play and learning for her. Grandma, the mentor!
What a privilege it is to be a mentor, whatever the stage of life. And what a gift it is to be fortified by the wisdom of our mentors as we ride on the rollercoaster of existence.