And then my journey stalled. For about five years. I went to Scout Camp, I attended troop meetings, I earned merit badges, and I went on campouts and hikes. I helped with Eagle Scout service projects and other service projects that we did as part of being Boy Scouts. But because I didn't know how to swim, I didn't advance in rank. Then I realised that I only had a short time before my chance to earn my Eagle would pass me up.
So I talked to my mum and worked out a plan to take swimming lessons through the nearby Peoria Park District. (That way I wouldn't have to take lessons with all of my friends' younger siblings.) So at sixteen years old I was learning how to swim with a group of five-year-olds. I learned to swim, to dive, to tread water, and to float. (Well, not so much "float" as "sink slowly.") I was then able to pass of the swimming requirements for Second and First Class and was able to quickly earn those ranks.
Then I kept on plugging away, earning more merit badges, going on more hikes and campouts, and going on a High Adventure to the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. I earned my Star, then my Life, and then, joyous joy of joys, I was able to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. I completed all of the requirements just before my 18th birthday but didn't have my Eagle Scout Court of Honor until March 2001.
I continued to support the Boy Scouts of America through my words and actions but I was not affiliated with any Cub Scout packs or Boy Scout troops until September 2010 when I was asked to serve as a Webelos Den Leader. I was elated! After nine years, I was finally given an opportunity to work with the Scouting program again! I was Webelos Den Leader (and Assistant Cubmaster is essence if not title) for three years before I was asked to serve as the Cubmaster for Pack 111. I have continued in that role to this day and hope to do so for many years to come.
As a Boy Scout, I learned the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. They have always served as a foundation for many of my choices. I believe in the Scouting program and love the values it instills in our young men. (I am also a strong supporter of the Girl Scouts, but that is a different topic altogether.)
I've been thinking about the Scout Oath a lot lately and what it means to me. And now that I am more than 500 words in, I am finally getting to the point of this post: What I mean when I say the words of the Scout Oath.
On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
"On my honour..."
My word is my bond. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. A friend recently suggested that if you can't commit to doing something 100%, you shouldn't commit to doing it. While I am not expecting perfection, I am expecting perfect effort.
"... I will do my best... "
This is very much what I was saying above. I promise to give my best effort. To me, however, the most important part of this is the personal possessive pronoun: my. My best effort is the best that I personally can do. It isn't what my big brothers can do. It isn't what my parents can do. It isn't what my sisters can do. It isn't what my friends can do. It is what I myself can do. If I have done my best, nobody can ask me to do any more than that.
"... to do my duty..."
I have responsibilities as a son, as a brother, as a husband, as an uncle, as a nephew, as a friend, as a Scout, as a leader, as a teacher, as a member of the human family. Do I take those duties seriously? Do I strive to do my best to do them? What are my priorities in performing them?
"... to God..."
I believe in God. I believe He has a plan and a purpose for me. I believe that I do not know all things that He knows. I believe that He expects me to do my best but that He also knows that I will mess up because I am a fallible human. I believe that He knows I will mess up, that He wants me to be able to mess up because it is in so doing that I learn and grow. And I believe that He wants me to live my life in such a way that others see my faith reflected in my actions.
"... and my country..."
I am a citizen of the United States of America. I have a duty to actively participate in society. I believe I have a civil duty to be aware of the issues going on around, to make my voice heard, and to be a voice for good. Part of that duty includes voting in elections. I also serve as an Election Judge for my county. I hope that I have left my friends in other countries a positive sense of what I stand for as an American, even if others in my country do not comport themselves as well.
"... and to obey the Scout Law..."
What is the Scout Law? It is a list of twelve character traits that all Boy Scouts (and now Cub Scouts) strive to live up to: trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courtesy, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, bravery, cleanliness, and reverence. (I could expound on each of these but that, too, is a topic for a different post.) Suffice is to say that I earnest strive to do my best to exemplify these traits in my dealings with others, my dealings with God, and my dealings with my self.
"... to help other people at all times..."
Recall my post a few weeks ago about helping people move? I really mean it. If I am available to help, I will help. Sometimes that help is manual labour. Sometimes that help is a listening ear. Sometimes it is providing tech support for those with whom I work. Sometimes that help is giving a ride or watching somebody's children. Whatever the service needed, if I can render it, I will.
I am also inspired by the story of the Sweetwater Rescue, an event that took place during the Mormon Migration west during the 19th Century. Members of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies were caught in winter storms after getting a late start on the trek west to join with the Latter-day Saints in the Great Salt Lake Valley. President Brigham Young, upon hearing of their dire conditions, called upon the Saints in the Valley to go rescue those on the plains. Teams of oxen were hitched to wagons loaded with food and clothing and off they went. The members of the rescue party, upon finding members of one of the handcart companies trapped on one side of the Sweetwater River, bravely waded the river time and time again to bring the weary travelers across to the other side. (The traditional telling of this story focuses specifically on three young men, C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant, and David P. Kimball, but recent research suggests that there may have been as many as 20 men who helped perform this heroic deed. However, I do not allow that to detract from the heroism of these three, who did what so many others did and answered a call to help others.)
"... to keep myself physically strong..."
As with every other point of the Scout Oath, this, too, is about what I, myself, can do. My promise to keep myself physically strong includes a commitment to keeping my body free from harmful substances. I am a drug prevention specialist and an advocate for healthy lifestyles. I recongise that different people have different definitions of what "healthy" means, and I am okay with that. For me, this commitment includes having a balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, and trying to get an appropriate amount of sleep.
"... mentally awake..."
The greatest way I can keep myself mentally awake is to constantly learn. Lifelong learning is not just a slogan or a motto for me. It is a reality. I read, I listen, I act, I participate, I discuss, I challenge, I question, I wonder, I learn.
"... and morally straight."
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have a moral code that I strive to follow. Morality is not just about sexuality, although I fear that many people limit it to that. Morality is doing what's right because it's right. I recall reading a selection from a favoured author about notion that the ability to make choices is what makes us capable of morality. If we could not choose, if we could not act for ourselves, we could not be moral. To be morally straight is simply to follow one's moral code. If you have a different moral code, I would expect you to follow that. For some people, their codes are complex. For others, they are simple. (One friend told me in high school that his code was simply "Don't be a jerk.") I recently read a book related to education in which the author suggested that the prime directive for a classroom should simply be this: "You may do whatever you want, as long as it does not cause harm to anyone else." It sounds simple, but as you contemplate how one may cause harm, you realise that this rule is quite all-encompassing.
As a Latter-day Saint, I consider myself a Christian. And thus I turn to the words of my Saviour, Jesus Christ, to know the greatest commandments He gave: first, to love God with all my heart, might, mind, and soul; second, to love my neighbour as myself. An author I read years ago said that these two great commandments can be distilled to one single command: love. When I act, am I acting out of love? If so, I am acting morally and staying straight on my path. If not, I have need for change within.
So there you have it. That is what the Scout Oath means to me. This is what I strive to teach my Cub Scouts and hope that they will take with them as they grow older, advance to the Boy Scouts, and/or move away and associate themselves with others. It is my firm belief that if they do so, they will make the world a better place.
On my honour.