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SemperParatus

A chance encounter in a crowded train station...

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The year was 1987. I was a young, twenty-something financial executive with an international firm, completely consumed by the world of business. A world where 70-hour workweeks were considered the norm and bad decisions cost millions of dollars. The memories of my youth neighborhood pals, ball games, scout trips and first dates had long been relegated to the back recesses of my mind as I devoted all of my time and energy to meeting the ever-growing challenges of the future. I had become an adult, at a much too early age.

 

My business had brought me to our nations capitol. Heading home for another weekend of work, I busied myself with my reports while waiting for my train to arrive at Union Station. Spring was blossoming and the station was filled with the bustle of thousands of faceless people heading out to enjoy the first warm weekend of the year.

 

To my great fortune, a trio of young, attractive college girls planted themselves next to me. We exchanged the obligatory smile of strangers who suddenly find themselves in such close proximity that ignoring each other would be considered rude. I tried to concentrate on my reports, but found myself drawn to their conversations about their carefree college life and exciting weekend plans (not to mention their long tanned legs). Their chatty exuberance and physical attractiveness was a pleasant diversion and I was, all of the sudden, looking forward to the train delay that had just been posted.

 

The rush of people passed by as I kind of fell into a comforting trance, half paying attention to my reports and the other half enjoying the college coeds. The arrival of a scout troop in our seating area soon caught my attention. How could it not? There were about a dozen boys in full uniform (remember those short shorts and knee high socks). The Scoutmaster was old, fortyish, and likewise in full uniform, complete with a campaign hat. He quickly immersed himself into directing the boys in the accounting of their extensive collection of backpacks and duffel bags. Their arrival brought much excitement as the hatted-one barked orders and the teenagers scurried about in complete oblivion to the calm and sedate world of our waiting area. It was a stretch, but I actually managed to bring up in my head a few fond memories of my own scouting youth as the boys eventually settled down after the Scoutmaster had proclaimed all equipment (and boys) present and accounted for. Oh well, that was fun, now back to those reports.

 

It wasnt long before the comments started. Initially, they were little remarks about the uniforms, but then it quickly denigrated into an ugly commentary about the boys and Mr. Dudley-do-right in the hat. It seems that the scouts had likewise gained the attention of my college girls and they were thoroughly amusing themselves with a seemingly endless stream of jokes, innuendos and hostility towards this alien group that had invaded our space. I suspect the scouts were far enough away not to hear the remarks, but I have often wondered how many ears their teasing laughter reached.

 

The numbers on my reports began to run together, as the anger welled-up inside of me. There were so many things I could have said to those girls how these young men were part of a long and valued tradition of service and devotion to their country; how they are growing into men of character that will make a difference in this world; how many boys just like these, fueled by scoutings patriotism, had died on the worlds battlefields so that they could sit there in their fine clothes and perfect hair enjoying the freedom to say what they want (no matter how ugly). I could have told them how these boys show care and concern for each other in a community based on friendship and loyalty; how those girls own fathers and grandfathers may well have learned strong values from the scouting program; and how they should hope that their future husbands have a scouting background that has instilled a sense of decency and respect. I could have mentioned how these young men are off to a great adventure that doesnt involve alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex; how those uniforms are a symbol of all that is good about America; and how those boys are being taught that courtesy and kindness are the basis for human interaction, rather than scorn and cruelty. I could have said many things. I said nothing, as I watched the real world and the scouting world collide. I said nothing. After all, I was an adult and there were those reports to finish.

 

To this day, I am not sure whether my anger was the result of cheering for the underdog, a feeling of protection for the innocent and scorned, a sense of injustice, or pride for an organization that I held some distant fondness for. Perhaps, it was a combination of all. Clearly, it was the first time in over a decade that scouting had even crossed my consciousness.

 

The boys seemed to be one mass, until one, a very gangly youth with bad skin, stood to stretch and survey his surroundings. His gaze caught that of the girls, who took the opportunity to make a rather mocking gesture towards him followed by their howls of laughter. The pained look on that young mans face was indescribable. In an instant, he was made to feel the humiliation of mockery and ridicule. The uniform, a source of growing pride for this young man, had become the very thing that separated him from the normal world. It was as if the emperor was fully dressed, but still had no clothes. He quickly returned to his seat, pretending to not notice the girls, but always sneeking a peek to make sure he was no longer the object of their laughter. My reports no longer seemed very important.

 

Time passed slowly, as I watched those physically beautiful girls reveal the ugliness of their soul. Finally, their train was called and they gathered their accoutrements and headed off. At last, this torture was coming to an end. Then an amazing thing happened.

 

One of the girls had perched her handbag precariously on top of her wheeled luggage as she headed toward the gate. She didnt notice when the bag fell off, leaving it in her wake to be picked up by any one of the thousands of people that would pass by. A slight sneer came to my lips, thinking you are getting what you deserve. But then, that wonderfully clothed emperor, the very scout that minutes before had been the butt of their jokes, bolted from his chair and retrieved the bag. Chasing the girls down, he politely presented the bag to the girl. As best as I could tell, there were no words of appreciation from the trio, rather they seemed to have one last parting laugh directed at my new hero. I could not take my eyes off of him as he returned to his seat looking even more dejected than ever. My reports were packed away in my brief case.

 

I truly believe that I was the only person on this planet that saw this exchange I am sure none of the scouts and adults in his group were cognizant of what this young man had just experienced and his small, but heroic, act. I could keep quiet no more. I walked over to this young man and, in front of all his buddies, simply said, You know, that was a great thing you just did. A smile as broad as the sun shown from his face and he simply replied, Thank you.

 

For the next several weeks, I tried to make sense of this experience. It haunted me, as I not only attempted to figure out my own feelings of anger towards those girls, but also the feelings of that scout who taught me an incredible lesson about humanity. This event brought scouting back into my focus with a greater clarity than ever in my life. More of my scouting memories began to surface, as I began to finally understand the real meaning of those seemingly ancient words that I had spoken so many times in my youth

 

a scout is trustworthy

loyal

helpful

friendly

courteous

kind

obedient

cheerful

thrifty

brave

clean

reverent

 

As a young boy, they were just words. As an adult, I found in them a creed for living.

 

Shortly after this experience, I hooked up with my old troop and began volunteering. What I found is that scouting is full of young men and adults just like that boy in the train station, people who approach life with a genuine concern for others and with a sense of decency and heroism that comes from doing the right thing, no matter the circumstances.

 

That was 18 years ago. When my own son was born in 1989, I couldnt wait to share with him this thing we call scouting. I hope the great lessons that it offers (which I had forgotten) carry with him throughout his adult life. Work is no longer as important to me now, scouting has helped to create a balance in my life that was sorely needed.

 

To that young man in the train station, back in 1987, I say thank you. You played a role in helping me to see what is really important in this life.

 

 

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Many Thanks for sharing.

Over the past 41 years (Boy does that make me seem old!!) I have always in some way been in Scouting. I have never had an occasion that jolted me back.

I have seen Scouts ridiculed and made fun of. Years ago there was some debate in the UK about Scouting and the image that Scouts and Scouting has in the media.

Boy Scouts took a lot of ribbing especially from the Goons. The Goon show which many think of as the best of British Comedy featured : Sir Harry Secombe,Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. The show started as a radio show and did a lot to launch the careers of the cast members. Sir Harry Secombe, as well as being gifted at comedy was an outstanding Welsh tenor. Spike Milligan, was a gifted writer and artist. Peter Sellers graduated from being an Ealing studio Film star to becoming a Hollywood film star. The humor was the kind that you either loved or hated.I remember my parents really hating it and calling it "Rubbish." Many people like Prince Charles, John Lennon and the cast of Monty Python see the Goons and the Goon Show as being British Comedy at it's all time best.

One Goon Character that Peter Sellers played was Bluebottle,a young boy scout who usually reads his own stage directions. He is the playmate of Eccles, and most shows contain an extended scene with just him and Eccles.

Bluebottle was based on Ruxton Hayward. In the early days of the Goons, Boy Scout Hayward approached Peter Sellers with a request that Sellers appear at a scouting function. Sellers declined, but the bearded scout with the odd, high voice made such an impression that he became Sellers's most beloved character. Hayward continued to follow the Goon Show as a fan, but never realized that he was Bluebottle until he heard Sellers describe their encounter in an interview on the Michael Parkinson show in 1972

http://www.goon.org/

Peter Sellers and the Goon Show had what might be called a cult following and a lot of people when they thought about Scouts and Scouting thought of Bluebottle.

The conversation about Scouts and the media asked if Scouts being portrayed by characters like Bluebottle damaged how Scouts and Scouting were viewed by the general public.

I loved the Goons and the Goon Show, but was a little hurt that anyone would think I was like Bluebottle.

One night on a late night talk show (In fact it was the 1972 Parkinson Show. - As far as I know Parkinson went to Australia and became the CEO of an Australian network. Maybe Ozemu could shed some light on that.)Peter Sellers, let it be known that he never had any intention of hurting the Boy Scouts. There was a guy from the Boys Brigade on the show, he said how he wished that someone like Peter Sellers had kept the Boys Brigade, up front and in view of the public.He went on to say that they just couldn't buy publicity like this.

I know that people in my small town like Scouts and Scouting. Every time I go for a haircut the Barber tells me how good it is that there are people like me who are willing to work with our kids. I still only tip him a dollar!!

I still think that it is good when someone is accused of being a "Boy Scout" it means that they have good values and are good.

Still at the end of the day actions will always speak louder than words. The Lad returning the bag made a big impression on you and the girl who left it.

Eamonn.

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That was truly inspiring. It brought a tear to both my eyes (That's not just a figure of speech either!). This story really made my weekend.

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SemperParatus,

 

Excellent story. You should submit it to Reader's Digest. Who knows...maybe one of those three girls will read it.

 

The beautiful thing about time...

 

18 years later, I'll bet that gangly kid still has a stellar character and feels good about himself. I doubt if those girls still have stellar legs or feel good about themselves.

 

 

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SemperParatus,

 

I haven't been able to tap in much lately, but I'm very thankful I caught your story tonight. Wow -- thanks for sharing! I have a feeling you are going to get many more opportunities to tell this story and more -- you have a gift!!

 

-mike

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Great story Brother... I appreciate you sharing it. I just got back from a rather frigid Klondike, and this warms the soul.

 

I was just having a conversation with an ASM whose son is getting teased about Scouts. He's having a hard time of it as of late. It's sad that folks look down on those that are just trying to do good. I think a large part of it, deep down, is jealousy. They have something that they'll never have. Respect, honor, trustworthiness.

 

Thanks for sharing.

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Eamonn I remember that Parkinson made a brief show over here but faded away long ago. CEO of something? Dunno but not on tele.

 

I notice that adults seem to respect Scouting. Kids are always hostile to anything that is threatening or outside their comprehension.

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Thanks, Semper. A good story told well. I'll bet your scouts listen to every second of your SM minutes - and remember them long after.

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A very good story. I would even say it is publishable.

 

You know, when I was in high school (not that long ago) there were many groups that were the object of scorn, ridicule, etc. Just about any group that wore a uniform was made fun of by someone (band, JROTC, cheerleaders, dance team, athletes).

 

I don't know what reaction I would have gotten in my Scout uniform as I never wore it to school. A younger friend and Eagle in my troop tried to get a group of us to do it one year for a day during Scout week. He was the only one who was actually willing to go through with it. I would say he got a mixed reaction.

 

I will say, all the places I have been in public I have received a positive or neutral reaction while in uniform.

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