June 02, 2005
Memorial Day camping, part ii.
(Continued from part i.) So why stay in what some consider a homophobic organization like the Boy Scouts of America, given my own political and -- more importantly -- ethical leanings? Because of my troop. Because of what it has done for myself, family members, friends. Because of what it still does for the young men involved. I have literally hundreds of stories about why my own troop is not and was not like other troops. There's the story of the older boys smoking multiple packs of cigarettes on a 27 mile hike but still getting to the top of the mountain first. There's that time at summer camp when I was 15 that I wore a different bowtie each night to dinner, with my "class A" uniform, the same year the older guys are all stoned in the troop photo. The time I fell out of a tree (branch broke) and bashed my head on a bench. When Geoff took a log to the head. When the summer camp we went to each year had to call the fire department to put out the massive fire we made for the council fire to end the week (which led to the subsequent banning of our troop from making the campwide fire at that camp ever again). How we never used the tents at summer camp and slept outside around a fire each night instead. The fact that I personally made some life-long friendships in our troop. That time my youngest brother put a wood chisel into his thigh and tried to cover up the blood running down his leg. The fact that my younger colleague, whom I have known since we were both kids, was able to get a fire started this past weekend with wet wood and no lighter fluid, and was then able to put out four hours worth of coals with an axe and a gallon of water (we taught him that). I know, some will say that their troops are like that. But I like to think ours is unique -- or at least rare. There's the way that we approached everything in a very matter-of-fact and laid-back manner and still won every single competition we entered. In 1993, we were invited to another district's annual camping event. We won so many of their trophies (including the coveted tug of war cup) that they invited us back every year to try to get them back. After half a decade, the event was no longer held, and they never got their trophies back. We were always honor troop this and camp excellence that. You'd be amazed. But our Scoutmaster, whom I've known for, let's just say, over two and a half decades, summed it up best during Saturday night's campfire. We were winding down from teaching the younger guys skits and songs and how to not catch oneself on fire while adding more wood to a hot fire, and he gave an impromtu speech. I wish I had a tape recorder with me, but I do remember the gist of what he said. That campfires and hikes and meals together are all things we'll take with us our whole lives. That sitting around a campfire talking or just enjoying that solitary glow in the night's darkness are even more important than merit badges or achieving the coveted Eagle medal. That part of being a member of our troop is learning to just be. He's right. We have a proud tradition of what Zack and I have termed "bullshitting." This often involves large amounts of coffee, but it always involves hours of talking and enjoying one another's company. Jokes, stories, politics -- it's all fair game and part of bullshitting. In fact, when a new parent or leader or district official comes around, we don't ask if he or she is nice, smart, etc. Zack or I will ask, "Can Andy bullshit?" That's the essence of our troop: enjoying the evening, the fire, standing on the sidewalk talking, whatever situation we're lucky enough to encounter in the lives we're lucky enough to lead. The ability to relax and to enjoy simple things extends, of course, far beyond our troop, the BSA or any other association we each might have. People tease me about being "laid-back," whether I'm working on a semester's finals, comprehensive exams, rush-hour traffic around Washington or a death in the family. More than one person has asked, "Dude, you party? How much weed do you smoke, man?" or "Day um, you must get laid a lot, huh?" Etc. Really, I learned how to relax and roll with situations through my experiences in our troop. I might have to mourn a lost loved-one or move to another city and another department, but I can still enjoy having coffee outside with my wife or just staring out the window into the night. I never realized until I got to college and graduate school that most people are either incapable or relaxing or just won't allow themselves to do so. I was talking to a couple of guys last month about marriage and a married man's sex-life, and someone said they have sex five times a week on average (Okay, that was me). A friend of mine responded, "Damn, I wish I had time for that much sex," and I think that's a good statement of how a lot of people these days seem to approach relaxing, chilling and bullshitting. They wish they could. The thing is, they can. I think that, more than anything else, my troop is excellent because of how its members learn to appreciate smaller things that most people don't make time for. How to cope. How to get by moving around to different schools and not having a ton of money. How to serve one's country in the military. How to remember how one got to where one is and to remember who helped one to get there. How to live a rich life, to live deliberately. It winds up having nothing to do with men, sex, money, beer, stress, career. It's a universal message and method for getting the most out of life. At least, that's what my troop has always been about. Our little secret.