A few months ago I said “see ya later,” to a pivotal person in my life. It was extremely hard. I have only known Mandy since April, but she has made a profound impact on my life.
Pivotal people are folks who come into your life and move it in such away that you are forever changed. They can leave you with positive or negative influences, sometimes even both. They may stay minutes, hours, days, weeks, or many years.
In Mandy’s case, we met when I was just beginning to explore reinventing my life. I had begun gardening classes at the Wilbur D. May Arboretum, Mandy worked there as an Arboretum Educator. One of her key projects was crafting the various school tours.
The first day of class, I wasn’t sure why I was there, or what I really wanted to do. The Arboretum offers a series of Master Gardener type classes, covering everything from botany and greenhouse to pruning and eco-friendly practices, for a discounted tuition. In return, the students commit to volunteering a certain number of hours at the park, during the year.
At the orientation, one of the volunteer tasks brought up was helping with the tours. Doing guided tours had always been a dream of mine, so I waited after class to talk to Mandy and learn more about it. I was sure there would be a long line and worried that I might not get a spot. Actually, it ended up being just me and another lady who were interested.
Even though I was excited about the prospect of being a docent, most of the tours Mandy needed support on were for schools and consisted of mostly 1st through 3rd grades. I was terrified. I’ve never had kids or had much time with them. Other than spending some time with my neighbor’s boy and girl, and being guardian for my 16 year old nephew a decade ago, my experience was nil. I relate to adults really well; kids, not so much. I’ve always had pets, so I understand the logic behind animals; kids though, are a totally different story.
But my desire to fulfill an age old dream won out over my fear of little ones, and I said yes to the tours. I decided to see it as a challenge. Every once in awhile I try something I’m scared of, just to shake up my world. For 2017, it was learning about children.
My first solo tour went really well, for the first 3 minutes. It was 22 first graders, 4 parents and a teacher. I had my props and my bullet point topics; I was set. Then I was asked a totally weird and off topic question that sent me mentally kicking and screaming down a merry path that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand: Conifers. Gradually I got back on track enough, so when Mandy asked the group what was one thing they learned, they had an answer that actually had to do with trees.
Truthfully, each tour got easier. I could laugh and joke with my groups and still have them learn something. I found that I sort liked kids, at least a little. Maybe not enough to bring one home, but I could handle an hour or two in the garden.
Mandy was always in the background, smiling; encouraging me to try new things and do just a little more. Never pushing, she was just … there.
I started doing more. There were activity days during the summer. I taught craft classes in Bug Crown making and Toilet Roll binoculars.
I got to know Mandy really well over those few months. I knew her internship was up in August and that she would be moving on … this time to a YMCA camp in Texas. She was young enough to be my daughter, but I learned so much from her and her love of nature and adventurer’s spirit.
When the time came to say goodbye, we both cried. I couldn’t help but think that everything fun I was doing would just end. And that my excitement for the Arboretum and educating, would leave with Mandy.
I was so wrong.
A few weeks later I got a call from a friend of mine who was also an Arboretum Volunteer. She works full time, so hadn’t been too active during the summer. She was starting up some senior walking tours for the fall, and wanted me to lead them with her. She had been spending time with Mandy developing an outline for the project.
Would I help?
So we plunged in and did a series of fun walking tours. We are planning for two more in December and a bunch of themed ones in the Spring. The new Intern, Danielle, has been awesome and is a bundle of ideas. When Mandy left, she took the time to create a binder full of info, contacts, and year highlights to walk the new intern through everything that is the Arboretum. This allowed Danielle to keep the creative flow going and build on what Mandy had done during her year at the Arboretum. And things are definitely flowing!
So why was Mandy such a pivotal person to me? On the outside, it would seem that she was just an ordinary woman doing her job. On the inside though, she was special.
I think she knew how to lead with her heart and let people bloom. She had a presence that pulled you in. She was always engaged and interested. I think she also instinctively knew the following tenets:
You never know when you will make an impact on someone’s life. Our days are made up with collections of single encounters. It’s these individual moments that we remember most. Sometimes it’s just a quick hello from the neighbor, or talking to the checkout person at the store. Or sometimes it’s a friendship being built. Somehow, somewhere, a connection gets made.
A single person can make a huge impact.. Every once in awhile, I’ll get a message from someone telling me how something I’ve said has helped them. This is very humbling to hear. It makes me more aware with all of daily personal interactions. We just never know if something we say or do might be the one thing someone else needs to hear. I still have times when I know I could be better: more thoughtful, more empathetic, and less self-focused. But I try to be a person who is a good friend and remember that even the smallest interaction can have major effects.
While a relationship with a pivotal person can be a brief encounter or a life long companion, the impact of their presence stays a lifetime. I’ve kept in touch with Mandy, but who knows if our paths with cross again in the same physical space. But still, I carry her lessons and those from others with me. Maybe I have to dust them off once in awhile, but they are always there.
The influences of a pivotal person can be positive or negative; try and shoot for positive. It would be nice if life was nothing but positive experiences. But you don’t grow without challenges and strife. You don’t know who you are until your beliefs, self worth and values are tested. Some of my pivotal people have not been very nice. At the time I interacted with them, I thought it was the worst possible experience. True, it wasn’t great, but those people did teach me things. Perhaps there could have been better ways to teach the lessons I needed to learn, but in the end, I did learn them. I also learned not to let these interactions define me negatively. I had to fight sometimes to do that, but eventually I got to where I could see these people as imparting knowledge to me, and then I could walk away.
Just so you know, I’m not saying that you should be a negative pivotal person. While I accept the negatives in life, I try not to hang around them for very long. I remember the positive people much more fondly, and cling to those memories when I need bolstering up.
Bloom where you are planted. You don’t have to be rich, popular, perfect, or famous to be a pivotal person. The person that is you is just fine. It’s more of a matter of being the right person, in the right place, at the right time. The people who have impacted me the most are not known by most people. They may not be overtly talented or unique, But I will never forget them.
Know that everything has a season; eventually you have to let go. Even the greatest relationships have a time limit. It’s sad to think that way, but it’s necessary too, for life to evolve. I would never have seen how limitless my own options were, if I had stubbornly remained focused on the school tours I did with Mandy and never ventured out a little farther. I would not be expanding my friendships with new people. I would not have considered trying those new things, that I thoroughly enjoy now.
My pivotal person reminded me that I had unfulfilled dreams. She helped me to forget about failing, and to just try, with no expectations.
I will always be grateful.