When I was 13, I was elected by my Boy Scout troop to become a member of the Order of the Arrow, a fraternal service organization that is part of the BSA. It is often called Scouting’s national honor society.
Having friends that were very active in the OA, I also became quite active. In time, I was elected to various youth leadership positions: chapter vice chief, chapter chief, lodge chief, and section chief. I remained active in my young adult years, serving as an assistant chapter advisor, committee advisor, and chapter advisor (twice).
For many years, I was deeply involved in the OA. I often spent several nights each week and many weekends involved in OA related activities. When I became a scoutmaster, I had to reduce my involvement in the OA. Then, as a father with young children and a career, I went to school at night to improve my skills. I had no time for the OA and many other cherished pursuits during those years.
A short time after finishing graduate school, I was called into a fairly demanding church leadership position. This kept my focus in other areas. During that time, my two oldest sons joined the OA. The second found little interest in it, but the first was heavily involved for many years and was awarded the Vigil Honor.
I have always cherished my experiences with the OA, but in recent years I have still found little time for personal involvement. I have supported my oldest son in his activities, but my duties as a member of the district staff and service in my local unit have kept me as busy in scouting as my circumstances permit.
This past weekend my third son was inducted as a member of the OA. I spent the weekend with him working at a scout camp in Idaho, preparing the camp for the summer. I worked with a detail that felled large dead trees. Some were hauled and used as new trail markers. Some were cut and split into firewood. My son spent much of the time splitting wood. He was actually rather proud of the blisters on his hands at the end of the day.
While there were a few old timers around that knew me, the vast majority of the 130 people at the event had no clue who I was. Having relative anonymity while also having a deep understanding of what was going on provided for an interesting experience.
While the adults in the lodge work, serve, and enjoy fellowship with one another, I watched how most of them assiduously deferred to the youth leaders. I watched the youth leaders make some mistakes. It would have been so easy to step in and correct some of these problems. There were some background sessions where adults led the youth leaders through some lessons learned, but the youth very much appeared to be in charge. Despite foibles, the whole event went off satisfactorily.
I was also reminded of some reasons I don’t mind missing events like this. These kinds of activities used to be like my life blood. I was always in the middle of everything. I was one of the important people. Now I prefer to let others take the lead. Anonymous service suits me just fine.
Every time I attend an OA activity, I am chided by various people for my low level of involvement in the organization. Part of me wants to be more involved, but there is only so much of me to go around. I have other priorities. It’s not like I’m idle. While I realize that some of these people are merely trying to express concern, the constant pressure to return to my previous levels of involvement grates after a while. Who needs that?
I have several BSA uniforms. All of them have what I consider to be the bare minimum of insignia. Whenever I attend an OA event, other adult leaders scold me for not having this or that award that I could be wearing. I am frequently admonished to pursue awards that I already have. I just don’t care to display the award insignia on my uniform.
I see these adults in BSA uniforms that look like five-star generals in military dress. I am so not one of those people. There was a day when I had to make myself feel important by following that line. I am not that person any longer. Perhaps it’s because I see my former self — or a different version of what I could be (but glad I’m not) — that causes me to find these folks repellant.
And then there are the collectors. Some of them are or have been good friends. I’ve been involved in scouting for a long time. I have patches that are considered to be highly valuable on some uniforms. I have patches that are worth thousands of dollars. And I don’t care. The only value a patch holds for me is the underlying memory and sentiment. Frankly, some of my friends that collect BSA memorabilia come across as vultures.
So when I get taken to task for my relatively unadorned uniform, or get pestered to give up some old patch or pin, or get ragged on about how I haven’t been around much, it makes me want to do less rather than more with the OA. I do plenty in other realms of scouting. I know that I can’t do what I used to do with the OA. And moreover, I don’t really want to.
My youth and young adult years in the OA were grand times. I carry many fond memories of those precious years. Perhaps my reluctance to become more involved at present is because I don’t want to spoil those memories. I am not that person anymore. Perhaps I worry that I might revive some of the less savory elements of that person once again.
I hope that the youth involved in the Order of the Arrow gain some of the same kind of fulfillment and leadership opportunities that I had in the organization during my youth. I am grateful for the adults that work to help provide those opportunities. For the present, my focus is elsewhere.