Written by Daniel Dorman
Most of my mentors are dead. They lived and died long before I was born, leaving behind something which has had a profound effect on my life: their words. These mentors, being novelists, poets, playwrights and philosophers, have thrown their voices across time to teach, encourage, rebuke and enliven my life. They have brought me hope, peace and wisdom, and most importantly, as good mentors do, they’ve shown me Christ.
Leo Tolstoy, in his novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, created a character named Gerasim, a servant. And at one point in the story, Gerasim, in the midst of his servants’ task of helping someone into a coach, “sprang back to the porch, as if thinking about what else he might do.” Gerasim’s eagerness and humble service throughout the novella taught me something of Christ’s humility and servanthood.
Another dead Russian mentor of mine, Fyodor Dostoevsky, wrote a little book called Notes From Underground. The psychological novel follows the interior life of an anonymous narrator through his anxious musings. This anonymous narrator has become for me a strange sort of mirror, I see his patterns of thought in my own; I see the way his pride pushes him inside himself causing horrible anxiousness and psychological instability. I even begin to see how my own pride is connected to the anxiety I experience, and yearn for Christ’s humility as a pathway to peace.
In King Lear, Shakespeare taught me the folly of despair, and in his 8th Sonnet he showed me the value of family and marriage. In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen taught me the value of both reason and emotion in our lives and in relationships. In Animal Farm, George Orwell taught me the value of truth and justice. In Paradise Lost, John Milton taught me to hate the sin of pride, and in Paradise Regained he taught me to love Christ’s righteousness. In Affliction 3, George Herbert reminded me to take up my cross daily, and to not lose sight of the bliss to come in the pain of this world. In Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev taught me to honour my parents. In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway taught me that life without Christ is futile. In The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien taught me to have endurance in hope. In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton taught me to be in awe of God’s creation. In The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis reminded me that God has never left my side. The list goes on…
I often hear Christian’s mourning over the fact they haven’t found a mentor, and at times in my life I too have felt that weight. It is good to have someone come alongside you in person. However, I hope we don’t forget there is a great wealth of wisdom hiding in plain sight at every used book store. I encourage you to make a long list of dead mentors for yourself.