Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Rougher Path

It was 1993.  My friend Jeff, who was teaching at an international school in Tokyo, had given me an unexpected request.  He had been asked to be the Scoutmaster of their BSA troop.  However, not only did he have no Scouting experience, but he wasn't even American!  I, on the other hand, was American and an Eagle Scout.  I was asked to be the troop's Assistant Scoutmaster, and I jumped at the chance.  Unfortunately, time and distance constraints kept me from participating very much, but I was at least able to be there for one very important event:  the Iditarod Survival Sled Race (cheesy synthesizer fanfare)

The race was actually held in the mid-winter snow of Camp Tama at the base of Mt. Fuji.  Each patrol of each troop had to prepare a sled and equip it with whatever gear they thought they'd need for a snow trek.  As they took their sled along the race course, they'd encounter various stations, each one of which gave them a situation which they had to resolve using their skills, whatever they had on their sled or persons, and the local environment.  It was a challenging and very interesting event.

There were several Japan-based BSA troops participating, but we were the only one not from one of the American military bases.  In fact, only two of our boys were even American.  That made for some pretty awkward situations, since the military parents accompanying the other troops weren't aware of the special rules for non-Americans our kids had to follow (e.g. standing at attention at the flag ceremony but not saluting).  Some of their boys also had issues with the fact that our boys spoke with various accents.  I had to defuse a number of tense situations.  However, the most inflammatory encounter was yet to come.

Once we were settled in our respective campsites and our tents pitched in the snow, the leaders were told to gather in the HQ building for a briefing.  Jeff and I went, and as soon as we entered the corrugated metal building, we were hit in the face with a barrage of loud 4-letter words.  There was a man there, imposing, built like a brick wall, and obviously of some importance to the event.  He was clearly military, but his branch and rank were uncertain.  However, his state of total inebriation was abundantly clear.  His constant, slurred abuse pretty much filled the room and made any kind of rational discussion out of the question.  The rest of us tried to talk about the next day's race while he loudly insulted us and urged us to help him drink the beer.  The other leaders quickly melted away; it didn't take long before Jeff and I realized to our horror we were the only ones left in the room with the soused soldier...which meant it was the hardest for us to escape.  Long after we'd left him alone, we could hear the man bellowing obnoxiously from inside the HQ.  We were pretty shaken up by the time we made it back to our campsite.

The next morning they tried to have the briefing again and were a bit more successful.  We were given our job assignments.  It turned out that Jeff and I would be manning one of the race stations together with one of the senior leaders from the Council.  We got our gear together, hiked out to the indicated location, and...(any guesses as to where this is going?).  There, eying us levelly and looking even more imposing in a Native American wig and sergeant's drill hat, was none other than the scary guy from the night before.  As we drew close and answered his greeting (trying not to look too nervous), we wondered what short end of what stick we'd somehow drawn.

Actually, as it turned out, the guy was AWESOME!   I mean, seriously!  Not only was he just a blast to hang out with and talk to, but he was a veritable fountain of knowledge, all of it the result of good, solid experience.  He had a good supply of anecdotes which he was able to deliver without it wearing thin.  As the race went on and the patrols started showing up, Jeff and I were only too happy to defer to his judgment and back him up as required.  He explained every point as we went, and he didn't hesitate to pounce on me (with good humor) when I said something inaccurate to a Scout.  (After that I said, "I'm a schoolteacher.  Can you tell?"  We had a good laugh about it.)  He was firm but fair with his judgment, giving praise when it was earned or criticism when it was due and making damned sure the Scouts left our station a bit wiser.  Actually, Jeff and I learned a lot.

Afterward, Jeff said it was too bad we hadn't taken him up on his offer of sharing the beer the night before.  He'd definitely more than made up for the unfortunate first impression.  In fact, I'd say he'd made a solid impact on our lives.

Which is why first impressions should NEVER be our sole measure of a person's worth.  Sometimes the most unlikely of characters, the most obnoxious, or even the scariest, can turn out to be the ones with the most to offer.  The path to wisdom is often a very rough one, and that can include the souls we come across along the way.  If experience is the best teacher, then those with experience are a very close second...and experience can tend to leave people a bit weathered, after all.


  • True that first impressions can be misleading. Glad he turned out a surprise.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 1:40 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home