The Real Magic of Mentoring
We eat a lot of chocolate at Braid.
In our first month here, we discovered Recchiuti Confections in the Dogpatch neighborhood and signed up with a frequent customer account. We visited so often that their Little Nib retail store was the first place in San Francisco where someone who wasn’t an Episcopal clergy person started to recognize us.
While we’ve had to cool it down a bit on the artisan chocolate (delicious but expensive), at any given time one or the other of us has a chocolate bar in our bag, which we love to share with friends and colleagues.
In the Harry Potter books, chocolate is actually medicine.
Some of the darkest creatures in Harry’s world are ‘dementors’, which suck light and life out of everyone they meet.
Here is how J.K. Rowling writes about Harry’s first encounter with a dementor:
“An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart…”
Harry’s eyes rolled up into his head. He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. There was a rushing in his ears as though of water. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder…”
And then, from far away, he heard screaming, terrible, terrified, pleading screams. He wanted to help whoever it was, he tried to move his arms, but couldn’t…a thick white fog was swirling around him, inside him –” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
In the presence of dementors, Harry and his friends feel as if they will never be cheerful again. The dementors make each person’s deepest and most painful memories rise to the surface – this is particularly intense for Harry, who has flashbacks to his parents’ screams as they were being murdered when he was an infant.
After that first dementor encounter, one of Harry’s professors has the antidote at the ready: he reaches into his bag and pulls out “an enormous slab of chocolate” and hands Harry “a particularly large piece.” The healing effect is almost instantaneous: Harry takes one bite and feels warmth returning to his body.
We face a lot of ‘dementors’ at Braid, so it’s probably no wonder that we eat so much chocolate. Every time a youth is referred to our program, we hear another painful life story.
These are the stories of children not unlike Harry Potter:
children who have lost their parents to addiction, incarceration and yes, even murder. These are the stories of children who have felt neglected and unloved for much of their lives. These are the stories that sell millions of copies when they are fiction, but in real life very few people want to hear them.
On days when we get overwhelmed by walking into the deepest darkness of our culture, I turn to the updates and stories from our mentor teams. It’s always the little things that bring me the most joy: pictures of a team’s latest harvest of carrots at the community garden or their freshly pedicured toes as they help their youth get ready for a big school dance, updates on the town they are building together out of cardboard and the magic tricks they’ve learned. (Follow our Instagram account to share in these joys with us.) These stories are like little bites of chocolate, returning warmth to the soul.
All of us have days when we need something rich and sweet and decadent to help us recover from difficult experiences in our lives or the lives of those we have come to love. Chocolate, though, is ultimately only an antidote, and the work of our mentors is even more deeply healing. For Harry Potter, the only real defense against dementors is a Patronus charm. Harry learns that a Patronus is summoned by “concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory,” which creates a bright, embodied charm, “a guardian that acts as a shield between you and the dementor.”
Our mentors are these guardians, standing between young people and their painful memories and experiences by helping them create new ones that are full of light and life. The youth Braid serves will face their own dementors for the rest of their lives, the inevitable ghosts of their childhood trauma. But my hope is that when they need to summon their own Patronus charms, they will have a reserve of very happy memories as a defense against that overwhelming darkness.
This is the real magic of mentoring.
You can help us make it happen. Find out how.