Michael F. Bowman (mfbowman@CAPACCESS.ORG)
Fri, 14 Nov 1997 23:22:33 -0500
Some of you who have been on the list for a few months or more may
remember a posting I made a few months back about the worst camp meal.
The story focused on a Scout named Len that made about the most
terrible mess of a meal you could imagine. Some who read about it were
prompted to write about gagging at the thought of his horrid creation,
some saw the humor in it as did I at the time of writing.
The rest of Len's story wasn't so good. Let me tell you a little about
Len joined our Troop in the early sixties. He was eager and proud of his
uniform and worked hard to move up to Second Class. He was really proud
of that patch and sewed it on himself.
We knew that his dad had worked with him on the badge, but what we didn't
know was that when Len was a little slow in getting something his dad
would pull off his belt and give Len a taste of leather. His dad was
determined that Len was going to be a success and couldn't stand it when
Len wasn't making the desired amount of progress. What we did know was
that Len did have trouble with common sense sorts of things - in fact he
seemed to us to be downright slow at times. Sometimes his manner of
behavior seemed to provoke some good natured ribbing and some ribbing
that wasn't very good natured at all.
In school things were a lot worse. Len's marks were always towards the
bottom of the class. He kept falling behind. Sometimes kids made fun of
Len and he would get into fights. He always seemed to be a strong-willed
sort able to take it and to keep trying.
Despite his failures at school, Len did keep trying in Scouts and
eventually made First Class. Along the way he tended to screw-up a lot
of things like cooking or pitching a tent and continued to get a lot of
comments from the other guys. Nobody thought much about any of this and
it went on for awhile.
I think it was about two years after he joined the Troop that we were on
a 20 mile hike talking about things when he volunteered out of the blue
that he'd tried to hang himself a few weeks earlier. The guys didn't
believe him and taunted him with things like "so you screwed that up too"
or "didn't you know how to tie the knot right?" He persisted in saying
that he in fact had tried to kill himself and that he was going to do it
right next time. Of course none of the guys believed him and just
thought that he was feeding us a line to get the other guys to let up on
him. Whether they believed it or not most of the fellows did let up on
him - I think they sensed that he wasn't acting quite the same as before
and didn't no really what to make of him. Talk drift to other things and
before long the hike was over. Nobody much talked about what Len had
said and certainly none of us thought to talk to one of our Scoutmasters
Later some went home and did talk to their parents about it and were told
things like "well what can you expect, he's a troubled child." or "Yeah
right, what other stories did he tell." and that sort of thing.
We didn't think much about until a few weeks later when our Scoutmaster
decided we needed to have a talk about Len. Len wasn't at the meeting.
I remember that the Scoutmaster was really mad, but tried not to show it.
He told us that he'd heard we were riding Len pretty hard and that Len
had problems. He went on to say he was going to kick some rear-ends if
ever heard anyone giving Len a hard time again. We guessed that the word
got to him and he didn't like what he'd heard. He also told us that Len
was getting some counseling and that he'd better never hear anyone make
fun of that.
Some of us made an effort, maybe of out of guilt or duty, to help Len out
and work with him. But Len seemed to be drifting sometimes. He stayed
in the Troop for another year or so and advanced a bit more to Star. He
even was a Patrol Leader for awhile, but it didn't work out so he ended
up being quartermaster for a long time.
Along the way somewhere he kind of dropped off to the side and eventually
just didn't come any more. But while he'd been there he really had been
proud of his uniform and the badges he'd earned. He was probably the
only Scout in the Troop to wear his uniform to the point that it was too
filthy to be acceptable just from the joy of wearing it at camp. And his
summers at camp seemed to be a highlight for him.
Every once in awhile somebody might mention Len and some of his antics
might be recalled, but gradually he was forgotten. At school he had
continued to have problems and was held back, so he wasn't seen at school
much either. The rest of the guys that had been in the same patrol
eventually made Eagle and moved on to Exploring.
A few years later we did hear about Len one last time. He had decided to
try suicide again only this time he was successful.
This experience in life left us with a lot of unanswered questions. A
lot of things could have been different, but they weren't. Len had a
tough life with a lot of obstacles to overcome. His home life was
sometimes brutal. He had some learning problems. He felt pretty much
alone and that nobody cared about him for much of his life. Even in
Scouting where he thrived the most, he had been put down by his fellows
because of his behaviors and mannerisms.
There wasn't much adult intervention in school or Scouting towards Len's
peers other than our Scoutmaster's single session that carried a lot of
Maybe Len survived a little longer because of Scouting. Maybe he could
have made it with a little more. Maybe some of his troubles could have
been lessened. No, there aren't easy answers and no you can't second
guess it to death.
When I think back to this time I wonder whether there is another Len out
there somewhere facing a lot of troubles, having a hard time, maybe being
ignored, and thinking like Len of a way out of life. If we all think
back we all probably can remember a kid we knew at school, someone in the
town or community who made this terrible choice.
So if you were wondering why I've been an advocate for suicide awareness
and coping training, it is in part because of Len's story and a desire
not to see it repeated.
Speaking only for myself in the Scouting Spirit, Michael F. Bowman
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