I have a friend whom I've known for only a few years … but he has influenced my life. For instance, he is the "other friend" to whom
I referred previously who invited me to go on a 3-day silent retreat. I've done it annually since then.
When we visit, he consistently refers to one of his volunteer duties, of which he has several, as his "Reading Buddy" assignment. He reads, weekly, to a group of young students at a school near his home. "It is so great to be able to be a positive influence on their young lives," he says. "A lot of them come from homes without a father, from a home within which they get no male bonding, no male support; OK, no male love. To be a positive influence like that is life-giving — in both directions."
Of course, he says other things, periodically, never more than one or two at a time, as well. "You should try it." "You'd be a great reading buddy." "The kids would really look up to you." "You have such a teaching and caring way about you." "The kids would love your sense of humor." "Here, let me give you the name of the Reading Buddy coordinator … just in case you change your mind."
Believing I would not change my mind, but also believing that anything is possible, I added her information to my contact list. I added a note, "Reading buddy coordinator," too, for times I see her name and wonder, "Who is that?"
A while back, school was starting shortly and my friend had mentioned his Reading Buddy avocation to me and how wonderful it would be were I to try it. I'd again done my best to be clear without being rude that I don't think Reading Buddies is for me.
"You know, he's really after me to be a Reading Buddy," I said to my wife around that time.
She knows my friend almost not at all but I try to keep her up to date on the topics we discuss … so my relationship is not a complete mystery. "He's been a Reading Buddy for quite a while, hasn't he?" she acknowledged.
"Yes," I said, "he has. I'm not sure how long but it's been quite a while."
"What do you tell him when he suggests this to you?"
"I am clear," I said, "that I don't think it's for me. I never turn him down cold … I don't want to be rude and there is a small attraction there for me. I really don't want to acknowledge that attraction but I don't want to slam the door shut, either."
"Hmmm," she mused.
"I hate it when she 'Hmmm's like that." Deciding to risk it, I asked, "What's 'Hmmm' about?"
"Well, tell me. Tell me about the attraction that you don't want to acknowledge."
"Well, I like teaching. You know that … I'm a born 'let me show you how to do that' kind of guy. I think kids kind of look up to me, and I could both like doing it and be good at it. But … but it doesn't fit my self-image," I said, as a truth slowly made itself known. I heard myself add, "It's like I'm cooler than that."
"Ah, yes, your self-image." She repeated, "Cooler." The word was both loaded with affection and chillingly effective.
"I think you'd like to do that," she said easily; "it could well be very good for you."
If you've been paying attention, you know both that my wife is scary smart and that I've learned to pay attention to these sorts of pronouncements. Almost immediately I knew I'd be calling that coordinator; it was only a matter of time to come to grips with it.
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