Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They often appear when you least expect them.

Kate Dicamillo relates this story from a recent airport encounter:

I was reading a book (an advance copy of a novel entitled Sandwich by Catherine Newman) and I kept laughing out loud.

The woman sitting next to me said, “It must be a great book if it can make you laugh like that.”

I said, “It’s wonderful. It has made me cry, too. It’s a stellar book.” (It really is. It will be published in June of next year).

The woman said, “Aren’t books wonderful?”

I said, “I’d be lost without them.”

And then the woman said this: “I’m 87 years old. My big sister taught me to read when I was five. She gave me the keys to the kingdom. Every time I pick up a book, I think of her and send her a little prayer of gratitude.”

That made me think of Dr. Roy Davis. Those of you who were fellow travelers at Ann Arbor Pioneer High will remember him. A Ph.D. who was passionate about teaching English.

Somehow, I got into his senior year AP English class. We spent most of the period writing in our journals. He would check them out from time to time and make notes. He introduced us to Ray Bradbury by playing Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” When we did get writing assignments, they were always relevant to our current lives and helped us explore feelings and emotions.

He was the first to tell me I could write well. Looking backwards in the rear-view mirror, my stuff was at best rudimentary and rough. But he inspired me to keep at it.

Dr. Davis passed away just before “Chasing the Captain” came out. I changed the acknowledgements to recognize his inspiration. One of my regrets is never having the chance to thank him in person for the gift he gave me.

Whatever we are growing up to be, there have been people along the path who encouraged us to keep going. Maybe this is a good week to ponder those people. If they are still around, tell them how much they mean to you.

When I was in the darkest depths of the worst days of my professional life, I was afraid to answer the phone. I feared it might be some news reporter ready to twist my words to fit the untruths circulating like glass shards in a blender that was shredding my broken heart. Instead, the calls were from friends across the country and around the world who somehow had their Dr. Davis moment because of some long-forgotten thing I did for them.

That probably saved my life.

Never miss a chance to express your own art, whatever that art may be. Think about the teachers, mentors and faithful friends who encouraged you. Take a moment to look them up and thank them.

It may be something they need to hear. And it will reassure you both that human interaction can be both positive and life changing.