Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Eagle Scout

   I know a man who spent his life obeying the Boy Scout law and following its creed.

   We were walking down that wilderness trail together when I was young.  It was a gorgeous day.  Beautiful!  Trees and bushes and rocks aligned the path on both sides. The leaves were so bright and sharp with color. But I guess that's the way it is in one's memory, isn't it?  And Dad stopped me suddenly, lifted his hand high, pointed up at a clearing and said, "Look, son!  Look!  Do you see that eagle there?  Do you see him soar?  Isn't he magnificent?  Wow!  He knows each feather on his wings.  If he bends one wing one way, he flies to the right.  If he bends another, he goes the left.  And did you know of their keen eyesight?  Eagles can see their prey from way up there in the sky.  And because he knows his abilities, and because he can see so far, he can soar anywhere he desires.  He's master of the skies, and commander of his destiny.  Oh, what a feeling that must be!"  And Dad looked down at me with a spark in his eye and an excitement glowing on his face for that adventure ahead.

   Further down the trail, we saw some boys with their fathers to the right.  So we pulled over to the side.  Dad stuck a feather in his band and I stuck one into mine, and we were Sequoia and Onnaweata.  And we sat in a circle with the others at night, talking about respect for life and obeying authority and telling stories of our ancestors.  And Dad and I built an incredible Teepee.  OK...Mom sewed it together.  But Dad and I drew some really neat pictures on it.  He was by my side during the hikes and the camp-outs.  And I swear that old Indian chief made rain pour from a clear sky one night!

   But after a while, we traded our feathers for sashes.  And Cub Scouts turned into Webolos. And Webolos turned into Boy Scouts.  And I remember we were setting up a tent one afternoon when Dad pointed to some scouts who were building a fire and said, "Look, son.  Look!  Do you see those scouts over there?  See how they're prepared?  They planned ahead.  They secured the area for safety.  They defer to one another out of courtesy.  But look at their faces.  See their looks of satisfaction?  That's because they applied their skills and took the time to do a good job. Find satisfaction in all the work you set out to do."  Some scouts began to gather around him to listen, and Dad admonished them to do their duty to the troop, to push forward to be leaders in their community, and carry a reverence for all living things and for God above.  "Come back again, sir," the scouts replied. "We would hear you speak further on this." And Dad became a mentor to Scouts across the country.

   He turned back to me and continued. "It doesn't matter if it's studying for a test in school, or painting fire hydrants for the firemen to see, or even baking a meal for a sick friend...find that satisfaction in a job well done. Create a vision for yourself.  Invite others to be part of that vision.  The most wonderful person I have alongside me is your mother.  And by the way, son, wonderful job on your band concert. You're a terrific trumpet player. I wish I was as good at music as you are!"

   Although his hands never picked up an instrument, they were never idle.  They were riddled with calluses after yard work. One moment they would be stained with ink after drafting a speech for the Board of Directors, the next they would be measuring a board to create a new table for his wife. "Measure once, then measure again for accuracy," he would say. "Line your numbers up evenly when balancing the checkbook. And mark on the calendar not only the due dates for your bills, but for writing to your grandparents."

   It wasn't just his hands, either.  His voice would command military officers. Business men would find themselves stammering in his presence when their projects weren't up to par.  His voice would carry over the waters during the crew races and ring out loudest throughout the house during the Christmas parties.  He once pulled me aside while the guests were serving themselves food one evening, pointed to a group of people and said, "Look, son! Look!  See those men over there? I know each one of them.  It's simple to attend a party and laugh and joke.  But a man should never walk alone. I have your mother. She's the most honest, hard-working and loving wife there is.  We share the laughter, the work and the joy of raising a family and walking through life together. And remember, when it comes to your friends: you don't find time for make the time.  Let loyalty and adventure be the banner for you and your compadres.  Extend kindness to them at all times. And son, Julie's a wonderful woman. You're lucky to have her."

   There were times when he seemed distant, times when work would call him away. And when he left, I would call out, "See you later, alligator." He would always reply, "Off a while, crocodile!"  And it would be a little while. A few days, a week, a weekend.  And the piano music would echo down the long halls during his absence.  But he would be back and we would continue that adventure down the trail together.

   We walked further down that trail, and heard a rustling in the bushes. We crouched down together, and Dad pointed to the noise and whispered,"Look, son! Look! See those key executives hiding over there? Oh, they think they're so sneaky! They play with numbers behind their backs thinking that no one is the wiser. But they'll receive their just reward. Never seek after a profit for money's sake. The material can be there one day and gone the next. But value integrity. Honesty. And be sure that the investment is in people. Let those who hear you benefit from your words. Become a mentor to those under you in the company. Seek peoples' trust and admiration not by exalting yourself, but by demonstrating the values of dedication, responsibility and respect towards others. You could be a sailor on a nuclear submarine, the Secretary of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or an engineer of a power plant. It wouldn't make a difference in your position.  A janitor, who puts in extra hours to get his children through college, can be as highly esteemed as the CEO who ignores the elevator and chooses to walk up 20 flights of stairs to get to work each day. It's not the position but those honorable values you hold true and live out that counts.  And son, I know it's tough working two jobs, but good job being responsible. You're taking care of the family"

   After a while...his steps became slower. His back stooped a little more.  Dad stopped by the side of the trail to lie down for a rest. He looked up at me and said, "Look, son. Look. Do you see this man? It's been a long walk. And it took me far. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but I worked as hard as I could and tried to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before me.  But my greatest love has never been my work, but my family.  I hope that hasn't been lost on you "

   And I replied, "Dad, perhaps your sight has faulted you a little. For I can confirm that there is no other man that I would trust more for the safety of my children than you.. And the other day, I heard a voice behind me say, 'Let's run those numbers, and then check them again for accuracy.' I turned around expecting to see you there, but it was my son encouraging his partner to review their Power Point project. You should have seen the look of satisfaction on my daughter's face after finishing a game of two-on-two on the basketball court. She took the time afterwards to confront one of the other players for unsportsmanlike conduct. Perhaps students going through the Harvard Business School should heed the example of one who has so effectively modeled integrity and responsibility, and who's shadow stretches over the world of corporations and utilities.  And if I may say so, sir...I'm most beholden to you."

   And now, that scout walks that wilderness trail with another companion. And his Savior stops him suddenly, lifts a nail-scarred hand to the sky, points and says, "Look, my friend! Look! Do you see that eagle, scout? Look how he soars. Look at him fly. He uses all his skills and abilities to find that joy of flying. He's certainly commander of his destiny." And He looks down at Dad and adds, "That's quite a feeling, isn't it?" And Dad gazes up at his Lord... with a spark in his eye and excitement glowing on his face for that adventure ahead.

In memory of Denton Louis Peoples
December 3, 1940 - May 24, 2016


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