Guardian Angels and A Mentor
When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the waters of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, “This is the way, follow it.
__ Isaiah 30:20-21
The Jerusalem Bible
Wrote the paper. I had to dig deep to find what I was looking for. That quote, about Sophia, was made by one of the few foreign correspondents to have spent a bit of time in Russia, and was most often the only thing attached to Sophia’s name in most historical chronicles of that period. But, I did find bits and pieces of her story, scattered through reference material I obtained through the school library. And it wasn’t an attractive portrait of her person.
She was said to be a scheming malicious creature who had no problems using violent force to obtain what she sought. A male, in her position, would have been given another and very different sort of definition. She allied herself with a military man and had a long-term affair with him. He helped her learn about military and political strategy. This was also seen as proof of her less than “truly feminine” nature. Personally, I thought she chose wisely, under the circumstances. She was also instrumental in making the first moves to open the, until then, closed and isolated doors of a country that had grown paranoid toward any and all outsiders.
Something her brother Peter took full advantage of later, when he assumed his position as Czar. He not only punished her by stripping her of all rank or connective links when banishing her to the convent, he also hung her consort from a tree outside her only window in that solitary cell, and ordered that the corpse be left to rot until it was gone.
Paper finished, I turned to the poem. I decided to speak to Sophia as one woman to another and framed it into a letter. Her story reminded me of another I had read a few years previously. It was about two eagles, fledglings in the same nest, one male, one female. It was a true story, about how the male gosling, fearing that his sister would grow too strong, began to peck at her, especially her eyes. With birds of prey, the female is always the larger of the two, sometimes as much as twice the size of the male. He would fight to get the biggest portion when the parent eagles would come to feed them. Eventually, the female died, because she had grown weak and failed her first test flight.
I used that bit of very real avian story as a metaphor in the letter, which was my poem. My History prof was far more excited about the poem than the twenty page paper. He’d critiqued the paper honestly and gave me an A- on the whole project. But, then told me I had to take the poem and show it to Dr. Kummings because he was interested in all things Russian and had partaken in several tours of that country that my History prof organized and led, almost on a yearly basis.
In the classic myths and stories of the Hero’s Journey, the hero eventually stumbles (at least he/she thinks it’s a fortuitous bit of luck) on an individual who will fill the role of Mentor, until such time as he/she becomes proficient enough to enter the world on their own. I truly believe that these individuals are guardian angels in human form. Many teachers wear invisible wings, as well.
I went to Dr. Kummings’ office reluctantly. He had played a leading role in getting me started with writing poetry and I was still of a mind that although I might have been coerced into writing this one more poem, that life was not meant for me. He was warm and welcoming as usual. I simply thrust the poem at him and told him I’d been sort of ordered to show it to him. He took it from me, told me to sit down, then sat to read the poem.
I hadn’t expected him to do such a thing, and was terribly uneasy as he carefully read through one of the longest poems I’d ever written. When he was finished, he set the pages down on his desk and remained silent for a moment. Then broke out into a beautiful, eye sparkling smile, “Do you have any idea of what you have done,” he asked.
Before I could speak, he asked me, “Do you know what the crest of the Romanov family is?” I shook my head, no, I had no idea.
He got up and pulled a book off the shelf behind him, opened it up and showed me an image, “It’s the picture of a double eagle holding all of the symbols of power in its talons.
“You really didn’t know, did you?” And again, I shook my head in the negative, stunned by the whole thing. “Elizabeth, you are a natural, and I hope you never stop writing whatever you are led to write. May I have a copy of this, please?”
I consented, of course, and he told me some of his stories about his trips to Russia before I left his office. Two weeks later, while looking over the course offerings for the following semester, I saw that the Creating Writing Poetry course would be taught by Dr. Kummings. Ten minutes later, I was at his door. Had questions I really didn’t know how to ask.
Told him I knew that he was going to be teaching that writing class. Then hemmed and hawed around a bit, before finally asking, “Would you mind telling me how you will go about doing that?” It was an awkward question and he stopped for a moment, then pointed at the wall of his office, on the other side of which was the office of my former creative writing instructor.
“If you are asking me if I will do it that way, the answer is no. We are very different people and approach teaching in clearly different manners. Now sit down and tell me what happened to you in the past year.”
I did. Told him of the ridicule, the harassment, the snide and condescending remarks, and told him of the skulls and crossbones episode. And he shared with me that most college English professors held a degree in English Lit, something he’d never been too eager to obtain. His degree was in American Lit, so the approach was far different, and he was considered a bit of a maverick by his colleagues.
Then he told me of an episode that happened to him during his first semester of graduate study. He’d spent an entire year working on and writing a thesis paper. When it was returned, there were no comments on it, no grade, just a hand drawn image of a skull and crossbones.
He’d never intended to become a teacher. He wanted to play baseball, but had injured his knee very early on, so decided to explore his other interest in American Literature. That single experience almost derailed him completely. Yet, he had found a way to continue, and I already knew that the man had been published as an ourstanding example of good American Poetry, and that he had become one of the foremost scholars of Walt Whitman’s poetry, publishing several books on that subject.
We agreed that we had a great deal in common and I left his office knowing I had finally found my own true path. At least it certainly felt like that. I could write again. I could write poetry without fear.
(to be continued…)
Note: for the story of how Dr. Kummings got me started writing poetry, go to the About Page on my poetry site at http://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/