In the midst of irksome tasks
By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2019-09-30
This image is from the Tonkawa Lodge 99 website, photographed by Codie Smith
A great personal friend of mine, Gayle, wrote to me yesterday afternoon and perked me up just fine. In addition to addressing me as "Bullethead" (a nickname I acquired decades ago when we were both kids, living in Petersburg, Virginia), she asked me "four questions you probably NEVER have been asked."
I thought I would share them with you because chances are, you have not asked those working with you or for you the same questions...or at least expecting realistic, honest, and perhaps revealing responses from them.
She asked me:
"Are you satisfied with your life, the way it has turned out so far?"
Yes. I am. When I was a young man, one of the Army Chaplains working with me on my Boy Scout religious emblem (called "God and Country") explained that according to faith, one must attempt to live his or her life "as if it was the last thing they would do on this earth." I thought Chaplain Hollis was trying to get me to cry, or to reveal a secret I had; or something like that. "Are you happy? If you were to die tonight, would you go with a smile or frown on your face?" he added.
Back then, I was happy. I had no idea that within a few short months of our conversation, I would lose my Grandfather, get beat up mercifully in a backyard brawl at the hands of a kid named Doug, save the life of the younger brother who's older sister I was sweet on, discovered what tear gas tasted, smelled and felt like, and finally was recognized for all of the environmental and conservation work I was doing around the base "and not getting paid for any of it", my mother would always remind me.
I was happy. Then and now.
"Would you ask God to give you three "do-overs," three "re-dos" in your life?"
There are times I wished I could, yes. There is the death of a classmate I felt I could have delayed, if not prevented. There was the woman who left me -- and I should have run after her, married her, and hopefully lived our lives happily. There was the decision I made to accept the Army commission instead of the Boy Scouting job offer.
As part of a graduate school class in business sociology, we were asked to "draw a road map of our lives, placing an X at those places in our lives we wished we would have had the power to change." Then, we were asked to write down on a 3x5 card what would have happened if we "zagged" instead of "zigged."
I remember writing "in the first case, I would become one of those angry Black men, upset at everyone and everything for the way my life turned out. In all three cases, I made those decisions, and I made them because I remembered something I pledged myself to -- that stupid Scout Oath and Law". When someone in our class asked me about the second "X," I explained that "back then, it sounded great. I was chicken then (that's not the phrase I used back then, but it's close enough for today's LinkedIn and Facebook readers). I wasn't Brave. I wasn't Loyal. I wasn't even close to being Courteous -- to her or to her parents in absentia." I was one of those angry Black men, with nobody to talk with and work through my feelings of rejection and hurt, all because my skin coloring and hers did not match -- and her family gave her the ultimatum: stay with us, we'll provide you with everything you want; stay with him, we forget you ever existed.
So I let her go. Darn Scout Law!
Gayle and I sent electronic "smiley faces" at each other. She reminded me "and because of those "stupid laws" -- and you holding up to them -- look what happened. You can't tell me that all of your kids don't make you happy today!"
I didn't give her an answer about the job choice. I could always go and do the Scouting professional gig...and I might do that in a few years. Being an Army officer, however, and doing the work on active duty was a goal I set for myself and overtook the years I spent preparing myself for professional service with the BSA.
"You already answered this, but give me one good saying you always say to yourself when things get bad for you..."
I have two.
"There's no such thing as strong coffee, only weak people..." and "even in the midst of irksome tasks and weighty responsibilities, to be unselfish in my devotion and service." The first comes from my first "tag line," I used since "going online." The second is from the Order of the Arrow's Obligation.
I didn't realize that such a paragraph, demanding that I would stop thinking of myself and instead about other people as much as my life would allow me, would have such far-reaching impacts. I didn't know much of the Scout Oath and Law either until some parts of it literally smacked me in the face as I grew up and older.
As I sat here in my chair, reading Gayle's response, electronically patting me on my back, I then realized why she was even posting me today. Today was the day eight years ago. Her daddy passed away; my own father passed away the day afterward. Both are playing cards in Heaven today, eight years after their deaths during the same long weekend, maybe with each other. So it was no surprise to me that the fourth question was the best of all of them -- at least in my thinking!
"Is there a smell, a song, or a place that relaxes you; makes you long for younger, earlier days?"
Honeysuckle. Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Cigar smoke -- I know I know, cancer-creating but I still love the smell. Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." Any Elton John, or Chicago, or The Classics IV ("Stormy") song. The front yard of where I lived in row houses in old Prichard Place, facing US Highway 31W. The parking lot in the backside of my high school. The Beatles' song "I Will." There were others also.
The smell of the farm air in Southwestern, Germany. The touch of a sweetheart's hand against mine. The sound of the radio, tuned to the public radio station late on a Saturday evening, "Jazz After Hours" throughout the night. White Shoulders perfume.
Fresh roasted or brewed coffee? I could sit crossed-legged in the middle of the coffee aisle in a grocery store or coffee shop, content with the smells and aromas of the various coffees around me.
Cardinal Point -- where I accepted the challenge to forever and ever to do what I can to help other people -- even if they spat on me, hit me with a baseball bat, cussed at me, told me that I don't deserve to live or be around them, or simply left notes -- notes they couldn't spell right, but the hateful sentiment was there. Where the Indian Chief, played by a tall skinny White kid with freckles, told me and the other forty or so candidates were entering the Order of the Arrow, of the heritage story of self-sufficiency, and leaving one's village to help others.
Oh how many villages have I assisted over my life...many of them right around the corner from my desk; or right up the road from my front porch; or down the road a short bit before I got to the "red roads" -- the main roads indicated on a road map or a GPS screen.
I encourage you to take a few minutes with your workmates, or fellow Scouters, or just friends -- and ask them Gayle's four questions. They are great kickstarters toward finding out more about those you hang around with...and them, to find out more about you.
Thanks, Gayle!! Hope the horse you choose wins too!