Aug 03 2015

A Debt of Gratitude

Category: Boy Scouts,characteramuzikman @ 12:30 pm

My scoutmaster, Don Powell, passed away today. I re-post this in his honor. Thank you, Don. Thank you for helping so many boys become men.


I spent much of my youth in the Boy Scouts.  Simply put, it was a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  In fact I think a lot of what has shaped my character can be traced directly back to my Scouting experience.  To this day I take great pride in the fact that I earned the rank of Eagle Scout –  it still appears on my resume, some 35 years later.

I was fortunate enough to be part of a very active Scout troop.  We hiked, we camped, we climbed mountains and floated down rivers, we performed community service and we went to Scout camp. We were out camping at least one weekend every month of the year and a couple weeks during the summer. I was even fortunate enough to travel to other countries as a Scout.  It was a tremendous experience.

But what made the greatest impact on my life was not the camping, or the hiking or the mountain climbing, or any of the other activities.  No, what helped me to mature and to learn about life was being around the men who volunteered to be Scout leaders and to give so selflessly of their time.  Men who often had just 2 weeks paid vacation each year, and regularly spent both of them on a Scout trip.  Men who had wives who must have been angels.

I was blessed to encounter men all along the way who taught me what growing up was all about.  Men who took the time to spend time with boys and to point the way to manhood.  Most I knew just by their first names, some had Scouting nicknames like Jolly, Bubbles, Rock-Ape and Kahuna – names that sound so silly now but seemed to fit the men so well at the time.  In some cases it was years before I actually knew their real names.

It was always a shock to me when I found out what jobs these men had in the “real” world.  They were electricians, phone company linesmen, defense contractor technicians, construction workers, teachers – blue collar workers almost to a man.  Their jobs seemed so small and insignificant, compared to the lives they lead as Scouters and as heroes to me and many other boys like me.   I almost never saw them wear anything but scout uniforms and almost all the interaction I had with them were on a dusty mountain trail or out in the woods around a campfire.  Years later when I would chance to meet one wearing civilian clothes I often thought how awkward and out-of-place they seemed in long pants and a necktie.

These men were not perfect. But that didn’t matter.  They were men who cared about helping boys become men.  In fact, the man who was my Scoutmaster for many years was anything but a dynamic or particularly inspiring person.  He was soft-spoken, not very graceful, kind of shy and kept a full beard to conceal big ears that stuck out quite a ways from his head.  (One time he did shave off his beard and scared us all very badly). But he loved Scouting and it was infectious.  He loved the outdoors and he took us there so we could learn to love it too.  He loved and respected boys and he earned the love and respect of the boys he was with.  He provided opportunity for us to experience, to learn, and to grow.  He wasn’t exceptionally articulate, or a motivational speaker, most of the time he did his job simply by showing up and teaching us how to do things like build campfires, paddle a kayak, and set up tents.  But oh… those were such valuable times.

My old Scoutmaster lives a quiet life these days.  He is retired, he survived a bout with cancer and has a little trouble getting around now.  He will never win a medal, he’ll never be written up in a newspaper or a magazine. No one will erect a statue of him in a city park after he is gone.  But he has an enviable legacy.  For scattered all around this country (and perhaps the world) are a group of now grown up boys who themselves have families, careers, and lives in their communities.  Men like me.  Men who remember what they were taught about honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, honor, duty, perseverance and other important building blocks of character.  Men who form a living tribute to those who took the time to help them when they were boys.  Men who are now engaged in passing along those same values to the next generation, perhaps even to a group of young men in a Boy Scout troop, sitting around a campfire somewhere.

The farther I move through life the more I appreciate what these men did for me and what a tremendous debt of gratitude I have for them. I wish I could track them all down and thank each of them individually, but I wouldn’t know where to look and I’m also pretty sure at least some have passed by now.  Others just moved away or faded away, leaving Scouting when their boys grew older, returning to their very normal lives.  So, In lieu of a personal word of thanks to each, let me just say it here once for all.  Thank you.  Thank you all very much.  I found my way to manhood.  It was right where you told me it would be. My hope and prayer is that if you saw my life today you would think the time you invested in me was time well spent.

Feb 01 2015

Do You Remember?

Category: Boy Scouts,friendshipamuzikman @ 10:34 am

I went to visit an old friend today. As I made the long drive to his house I started counting up the years and realized I have known him for almost 50 years. To my sadness and regret I have allowed too much time to pass between visits. I think it has been somewhere around 10 years. Time has taken its toll. His thick beard is entirely gray now. He has trouble getting up from his chair. He must use a walker to get around. Sometimes he does not make it to the bathroom in time.

He has Alzheimer’s disease…

He did not recognize me when I came in. He had to ask me for my name again. He really did not know who I was. He was always a man of few words but as I sat with him there were several long silences, during which he simply looked at me. It soon became apparent he was working internally, piecing together enough memory fragments to recall that he did know me and to collect some notion of how.

Friendship can be born from many things, such as shared work space, recreation, mutual friends, mutual interests. But friendships are nourished and grow through shared experience. Our best friends are the ones with whom we share the most experiences and we relish the camaraderie that comes from remembering times spent together, both good and bad.

Like so many things in life, memory is not fully appreciated until it is gone. This man was instrumental in helping me navigate the journey from boyhood to manhood. I’d like nothing more than to sit with him and reminisce. I’d like to honor him by telling him how much those memories mean to me and how profoundly those experiences were in helping to shape me. I’d like to recall some great times and in doing so let him know that I still think of them as great times.  But the lid to that treasure chest is almost completely closed forever thanks to this disease called Alzheimers.

Imagine sitting down with one of your best friends and having a conversation in which you cannot reference anything from the past.  I found out just how difficult that is. We build upon memories while creating new ones, and when that remembered context is gone there is very little on which to build.

By the end of the day my friend had put enough pieces together to recall it had been a long time since our last visit.  I will always regret that because it wasn’t just the years in between that we missed, it turns out we lost all the preceding years as well. That was my fault….not taking the time to keep in touch as I should.  I will try to do better with the time we have left before the disease takes him completely away.

Do you have a friend with whom you have not spoken in a while?  Call them up and reconnect.  Ask them, “Hey do you remember the time we…?” And be thankful when the answer is “yes”.