When I was 13 years old, I was tapped to be a member of the Order of the Arrow (OA).
This is the Boy Scouts of America’s brotherhood of “elite campers.” The Order of the Arrow embodies several principles that are part of the overall Boy Scout credo, but taken somewhat to a higher level. The core of the brotherhood’s ethos is neglect of the self in service to others. After you are tapped by your fellow scouts to be a member of OA, you must still go through what is referred to as an “ordeal weekend.” The purpose of this weekend is to try and help you truly understand what it means to neglect yourself in the service of others. This is accomplished by subjecting you to fairly grueling physical labor, by any standards. That weekend, our project was to reinforce a bulkhead that sat in between the back of an amphitheater and the marsh behind it. I’ll spare most of the details of what we did during the course of that weekend. The main task involved hauling telephone poles to the edge of the marsh and securing them in the ground at the point of the bulkhead. There was a group of us working on this. We were of varying ages, but were all teenagers. Carrying telephone poles. To make a wall. Importantly, we were forbidden to talk to each other or anyone else for the entirety of the weekend. Of course, that added a layer of complexity to the task, since doing what we did was no easy thing even if you are allowed to communicate with each other. I also remember distinctly our lunch on Saturday: half of a hot dog (no bun, etc.) and one Teddy Graham cracker. Before I start to sound like a martyr, let me say that this story serves to illustrate the ways and means that I learned about service to others. Also, don’t forget something: I was 13 years old. My wife is pretty much of the opinion that the Boy Scouts should have been sued for violation of child labor laws or something, which is funny to me – I look back on it as one of the formative experiences of my youth.
In case you haven’t heard, Wichita has been inundated with one of its worst winter storms on record. Over the past two days we saw something like 12 inches or more of snow fall and blanket the city. Since my family and I arrived here to begin my postdoctoral fellowship, I have been waiting and wanting for a snowy winter. My wife was quick to point out that I got my wish and then some. She and our 18-month-old son left this morning on a flight to Atlanta, after which they’ll head to our hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. We weren’t quite certain whether or not the flight would be delayed or even canceled; however, checking the airport delays yesterday revealed that all flights were leaving and arriving on schedule. Sometime around noon yesterday I decided that I had better get to work to make sure that we were able to not only get out to the airport, but also to simply have the option of coming and going if we needed to. So, after my son went down for his afternoon nap I suited up, grabbed the snow shovel and some de-icing salt, and got to work. I purchased these things a little over a year ago, before a single snowflake fell or even threatened to; there’s nothing I hate worse than being caught flat-footed when I could’ve easily done something in advance. This stems from another of the life lessons I took away from my time in Boy Scouts: be prepared. This morning, after we got up and starting getting ready to leave, I went outside to get our truck prepped to go. There was little work to do – all I really had to do was get the ice broken off from around the doors to get them un-stuck and get the suitcase in the back. After dropping them off, I looked around my neighborhood and could see that I had one of only two driveways that were completely free of snow and ice. I felt pretty good about that.
Although I did not say anything to my wife about it, today my body feels like I just went 12 rounds. Regardless of how or why I feel the way I do right now, I can tell you that it is a good kind of soreness. As a father and a husband, I have a job to do. Though this job is decidedly a heavy responsibility that I have to them, it feels to me more like an honor and a privilege. Indeed, when our vehicles break down, it is with my two hands that I go out and fix them so that they run reliably once again. Similarly, when snow falls in record levels, it is my responsibility to get outside and work until I am sure that we are able to leave to go get the things we need, when we need them. My job, put another way, is to make sure that my wife and son are in a position where there is no need to worry about whether or not we will be left wanting. My job, as I see it, is to go out into the world and do the unpleasant things that need to be done, so that my wife and boy are taken care of. This is why the soreness and physical fatigue that I feel today do not bother me: I are a return on an investment of hard work for the ones I love. It is a service that I will gladly do every day for them. To me, this is what being a father, a husband, and a man are all about.
And now I know that shoveling snow sucks.