Monday, May 28, 2007

  In Memoriam

Yesterday, for the second time in as many years, I went to Arlington National Cemetery to watch Rolling Thunder XX. But this year, I had another mission: to visit the grave of a college classmate of mine who died in a car crash in December 2006 while serving in the Air Force.

I didn't know him very well--we knew each other's names and would exchange greetings when we passed on campus--but his death, for some reason, has touched me deeply. I've tried, over the past few months, to figure out exactly what I find so moving--after graduating, I didn't expect to see or talk to him again, unless we both attended a class reunion--and the best that I've been able to discern is that he is buried so close to where I live (a 10 minute walk from my apartment). Because, in my family, each successive generation seems to move away from home and stay there, there was no family tract at a local cemetery to visit. I have no idea where my mother's relatives are buried, and my father's relatives are buried in two separate parts of Pennsylvania; my brother and I will probably not be buried near either of them, as cemeteries are filling quickly. Having someone I know--even if I didn't know that person very well--buried so close came as a shock. I had to visit--it felt like my duty to do so.

Shortly after he was interred, I visited his gravesite, which was marked by a paper card, as it was too recent for a headstone. The freshly-dug earth had no grass growing on it, and the recent rains had made it muddy. Elsewhere in the Cemetery, Christmas wreaths lay on headstones. I reached the gravesite but found I didn't really know what to say--the most interaction I had with him was a meal with friends in our dining hall, and I felt guilty for visiting the grave of a person I didn't know all that well. I said a prayer, and I wept for the loss of my classmate.

Yesterday was much warmer than it was in January, the sky was bright blue, and tourists were swarming the Cemetery. As two friends from work and I made our way towards the section of the Cemetery in which he was buried, I again began worrying about my motivations in making this visit. As we got closer to the site, I began to scan headstones, looking first at date of death to calibrate how far down the row the grave is. My friends dropped back, and, suddenly, I saw his name: Jamin Buchanan Wilson. I stopped, stunned. I don't know why it surprised me so--perhaps because the first thing I saw was the name, not the date; perhaps it was the finality of seeing that name on the headstone; perhaps it was because I thought it was further down the row and its suddenness surprised me--but I stopped cold. I spent some time standing there, offering a prayer in what I hoped was a respectful way of honoring his life, and I cried. Still battling doubt (What is the respectful amount of time to stay? What are the respectful things to say?), I took a last look at his grave and walked back the way I came.

I don't know if anyone else came to visit his grave this weekend, and, though I haven't figured out why my classmate's death has impacted me as it has, I hope he took comfort in knowing that someone came to honor his life and his sacrifice on Memorial Day weekend. We owe so much to those who serve in our armed forces that it seems a bit sad that we only set aside two days a year to honor their sacrifices. To all of them, Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.


posted by AJM  # 1:24 PM 0 Comments  

Monday, May 21, 2007

  On Modern Humor

As someone who believes, deep in my soul, that people who use curse words simply aren't able to think of the actual word that represents their true feelings, I generally do not find modern comedians funny: it seems that every other word is unprintable and, as a result, I don't watch many comedy routines (or movies). So, this evening, it was refreshing to watch a Bill Cosby comedy special from 1981. During the course of two hours, over a wide range of topics, there was nary an obscenity, and it was hilarious. It was good to be reminded that comedy is divorced from obscenity, even though we don't often see that in comics today.


posted by AJM  # 10:28 PM 0 Comments  

Friday, May 11, 2007

  On the Road Again...

Last weekend, I drove from Arlington, VA to Houston, TX as part of a job relocation (hello, hurricanes). Over the course of two days, I did about 22 hours worth of driving which, for the most part, I enjoyed. Besides the opportunity to think and reflect on a number of things, I was able to really reflect on two things that seem to be omnipresent in American society:
  1. There is nothing good on the radio.
  2. Nobody uses turn signals when changing lanes.

Both of these I consider unfortunate and distressing. The first case really isn't worth going spending much time discussing, as everyone's musical tastes differ and the insufferable radio stations I listened to from Atlanta to Houston could actually appeal to some people. Sadly, since I now live in Houston and can't find anything appealing on the radio, I am being driven towards finding music I enjoy on my own, purchasing it, and storing it on an MP3 player (which I do not yet own). Like I don't have enough to do already...

The second, though, is really unacceptable. It's a matter of simple, common courtesy, not to mention defensive driving. On all-too-frequent occasions I was abruptly cut off by some car changing lanes without signaling. I'm not sure why people don't use turn signals when changing lanes (perhaps they were distracted by trying to choose a new song to listen to on their MP3 player because they, too, found the radio stations insufferable...), but it reflects general inconsideration for fellow drivers. While I'm not a big fan of trucks (a FedEx truck ran me off the road last summer by merging into the space I was occupying), I will say this: every time a truck has abruptly moved out in front of me, they've used a turn signal to give me some amount of warning, no matter how small (even the FedEx truck). Automobile drivers should take note and provide the same courtesy, even if they don't change how they drive.


posted by AJM  # 9:27 PM 0 Comments  

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

  Young Adult Leaders in Scouting

The May-June issue of Scouting Magazine features an article on how units and others can keep Scouts who recently turned 18 involved in Scouting, and I'm featured in the article as an example of someone who, instead of becoming involved in a unit, became involved in Council/District activities. Though the article is short, I think it's a good first step in addressing what I consider to be a challenging issue for the Scouting program: why don't more Scouts become Scouters prior to having children in the program? I've had a few opportunities to discuss this with professionals and experienced volunteers, and the thinking on this seems to fall into two camps:
  1. We need to do a better job of retaining Scouts as Scouters.
  2. It's good for Scouts to leave the program when they turn 18/21 (Boy Scouts or Venturing, respectively), go into the world, find themselves, and then return to the program when they're relatively successful/have kids/have time.
To be sure, point number two is very compelling: depending on what's going on in an individual's life, their time could be packed--trying to graduate college, start a job/make a good impression in a job, find a spouse, start a family, etc. The few Scouting activities in which I currently participate are generally at the mercy of my job (case in point: it looks like I won't be able to attend the 2007 World Jamboree due to a work obligation), making it difficult to commit to activities far in advance and/or leading to great angst when I have to back out of a commitment I've made.

But I don't think that's necessarily always the case. I think that most Scouts don't become Scouters because they're familiar with unit operations and the time commitment involved in being a unit leader--one meeting per week, an activity every month, summer camp, etc. That's a lot of time to commit, and it seems overwhelming. Other volunteer roles, such as serving on committees at the District or Council level or serving as a merit badge counselor, require far less time (60-90 minutes per month) but aren't as well promoted, in my opinion, as a viable volunteer opportunity to keep Scouts engaged as they start their life in the "real world."

Staying involved in Scouting is important for Scouting--younger volunteers are better able to relate to Scouts, and the more volunteers a Council has, the more they are able to do. The Merit Badge University I ran in Boston was possible only because we were able to find counselors willing to spend two Saturdays teaching Scouts. That's a time commitment that can be easily made by a young volunteer, but we need to know how to reach them in order to get them involved. All of my friends in college who were former Scouts were not involved as Adult Scouters, but they were willing to help out at the Merit Badge University; the trick was knowing to ask.

As a movement, I don't think we do a good job of tracking where our Scouts go. Many Scouts reach Eagle just prior to their 18th birthday and then head off to College, often in a different location from their hometown. With no way of passing that information to the council covering their college, it's generally incumbent on the individual to reach out to Scouting, rather than for Scouting to reach out to him. Fixing this would take a lot of time and effort, and it may very well be that that time and effort is better spend elsewhere, on higher-priority items. But, declaring defeat doesn't seem to be a good strategy, either.

I'm not sure if this rambling has added to the general discussion, but I believe it is important to keep young adults involved in the Scouting program as volunteers. It's our responsibility to find a volunteer opportunity for them that is attractive and compatible with their life; events such as Merit Badge Universities fit this bill, and there are certainly others out there. The challenge is taking steps to reach out, but the rewards and benefits for both Scouting and the individual are numerous.


posted by AJM  # 10:30 PM 0 Comments  


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