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My Mentor’s Gift

A Facebook message from a stranger lifted my spirits, just when I needed it.

My Mentor’s Gift

I sat at my home computer, scrolling through Facebook posts. A photo of a friend’s grinning granddaughter, a video of someone else’s new puppy, an announcement about another friend’s new job. Usually I take pleasure from other people’s joy, but that day it stung. I’d been laid off after 14 years as an office manager for a company I loved. At 43, I’d need to start all over. I should have been looking at jobs instead of Facebook, but I was down in the dumps.

  Shawn with the portrait that lifted her spirits.

“What would Irene say?” I kept asking myself. She was my first mentor at my first job, in a dress shop back when I was a senior in high school. Irene was much older, more of a grandmother than a co-worker. I was an awkward teenager, but she never made me feel that way. She had an only son, Steve, that she kept trying to set me up with. While that didn’t happen, she still treated me like family. For Christmas, she even gave me a vintage red sweater set that her husband had picked up for her in Italy while he was stationed there.

One time, I’d gone to work after picking up my senior pictures. I didn’t think I was photogenic, but Irene loved the photos. She explained that she was taking art lessons, and her instructor had asked each student to paint a portrait. Irene asked if she could use my photo as a model. Of course I agreed.

I never saw that portrait. While I was at college, the dress shop closed and I couldn’t track her down.

A little red notification popped up on my Facebook page. A message. I opened it up. Bente Bernstein? I didn’t know anyone by that name. Probably spam. I was about to close it when it hit me. Bernstein—Irene’s last name.

“I’m Irene’s daughter-in-law,” Bente wrote. “My husband Steve thinks you’re the one Irene often spoke about. She passed away recently, and while we were cleaning out her attic, we found something that you might like to have…”

Bente and I met a few days later. I gave her Irene’s sweater set—still in great condition and perfect for Irene’s granddaughter—and she gave me the portrait. Irene had painted me with loving detail, transforming my awkward school picture into a work of art. It wasn’t how I remembered myself. But it was how Irene saw me—beautiful, young, full of promise.

Now that lifted my spirits. I was ready to stop scrolling Facebook, and start looking for a new job.

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