1.10.2003

I feel like I could write all day today. Alas, I have to work. But I will share a little story, something that's ongoing.

Back in the day, I was really involved in Scouting. Really involved. It gets a very bad reputation these days, and mostly deserves that reputation, but I should say that there are merits to the program.

It has some success at teaching young men the value and consequences of hard work. There are exceptions, of course, but generally they build an association between setting goals, working towards them, and achievement. It's a nice setup when it works.

I worked at the local council's summer camp three summers in a row, and got to know a wide variety of people, many of whom I have long since lost touch with. This camp, this physical property, informs my concept of paradise. The geography is interesting but not stunning, the forest is old growth Hill's Oak, and it's a mostly rustic spot sitting on one of Wisconsin's largest lakes. It's where I fell in love with the chorus of cicadas singing to each other in the oak trees. The sun dances on the lake like spilled sequins rolling on the floor.

I learned about people, and developed a pretty healthy distaste for flip and nonchalant youth. I understand that it happens and it's mostly inevitable. But it's such a waste. Take this one kid, named Sam. No, it wasn't me. He was several years younger than me and about ten feet taller than me. In school, he was a volleyball star. Not only was he tall for his age, but quite precocious.

Kids like that often become a tricky problem. There's no doubt that they're mentally and physically advanced from their peers, but often they remain on the same emotional level. They receive praise and acclaim, and it goes to their head, and suddenly their ego precedes them. This kid was good, but he got cocky, and turned into gigantic prick. Which was too bad, because he'd always been so nice before. He was just a genuine good guy, and now he pulled lame center-of-attention gags that disgust me so.

The last year I worked at the camp, he was on staff too. As a shining star in the Scout world, it was only natural that he'd end up there. That's how these things work. I grew tired of his antics and did not attempt to conceal my contempt. Soon, the entire staff knew quite well that I would have nothing to do with him. Some of the campers probably found out too, and that's too bad.

I ran the trading post that year, and gave free slushees to the staff members I liked. Most of the staff felt comfortable enough to walk behind the counter, and take care of their own business. He was restricted to the same areas as the campers. I was a prick, but still he maintained his game as a Very Important Person. What gall for a fifteen-year-old.

That summer ended, and I went on to college. The next summer I needed a real job that paid a real salary, and couldn't work at camp, though I took some time off to go up there and visit. What I saw surprised me.

Sam had turned into a humble hard worker. Though he was a lifeguard on the beach (traditionally the royalty of camp), he spent his lunches washing dishes for the kitchen crew. He made time to help the weaker swimmers perfect their strokes, though he could have simply failed them in swimming class. His handshake got firm. When a particularly nasty job came up that required extra hands (latrine shoveling, hauling boats, hauling brush), he pitched in.

It was a remarkable transformation. To this day, that's who he is - a true achiever. When he sets his mind to do something, it's done.

Years passed, and I left Scouting, for many reasons. One reason certainly was their decision to prohibit homosexuals from being leaders, but that's not the biggest one. To a large degree, I felt I wasn't a good role model for the youth anymore, and couldn't continue in good faith. Though I don't regret my involvement and achievement, I also do not miss the program.

But Sam emailed me from out of the blue yesterday, and it took me a day to figure out how to respond. See, I don't miss the politics of Boy Scouts, but I miss some of the people. Especially people like him, who taught me there's more to folks than you might think, and how important it is to give everyone a fair shake.

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