October 26, 2007

Court of Honor

Last Sunday, I participated in the for my nephew's Eagle Scout Court of Honor. It has been years since I was around Boy Scouts and it was both new and familiar to me.

My son was involved with Cub Scouts, but declined to continue with Boy Scouts when he turned eleven. I, on the other hand, was certain that I wanted to continue from Cub to Boy Scouts. I remember coming home from an early Boy Scout meeting and declaring that I was going to become an Eagle Scout.

I had a wonderful time as a Boy Scout. My troop had a scheduled outing each month and in that way went on my first backpack at age eleven. I learned how to build a fire, cook a meal over flames, carry my gear over miles of muddy trail, sleep in a tent in the rain, and generally have a good time in the out of doors. From that early experience, I was able to become a confident hiker and backpacker. I've carried that with me for over four decades. I also made friends that I've kept all these years.

And, although it took longer than my father believed that it should have, I did earn my Eagle Scout award. For this reason, my nephew asked me to participate in the ceremony, reading the Charge and the Pledge, just before he received the award.

I was proud to be asked and happy to agree to do this. I did so, however, with some ambivalence, as I have problems with the national leadership of the Boy Scouts. To my mind, the national program has been taken over by narrow-minded fanatics who have turned their backs on the inclusive and (dare I say it?) liberal tradition of the best of the Scouts. The program I grew up with emphasized diversity (before it earned that name and became a cliché and lightening rod). In those days, of course, it was race. It's been a sad degeneration from those idealistic days.

But, I understand that all of these kinds of experiences are local -- much depends on the leadership of the troop -- so I went and participated.

There aren't enough of these kinds of events. There are so few that mark a young person's entry into a wider sphere of his community. I think a longing for this kind of recognized rite of passage is behind the proliferation of school graduation ceremonies. It's too bad we can't do better than that.

I was pleased with the whole ceremony. The portion of the troop that attended was diverse and reminded me of the kids that I consorted with as a Scout. The leadership clearly cared for the boys and everyone seemed very comfortable with each other. I was also pleased with the words that my nephew selected for me to read. They were wise and true.

I was proud to stand on that stage with him, in front of his family, his friends, his mentors, his troop members, and his fellow Eagle Scouts, and charge him with living up to the potential of his achievement.

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