As a Latter-day Saint, I’ve been taught all my life that you don’t refuse an opportunity to serve. Consequently, I’ve held many teaching and leadership positions in the Church throughout my life, and I anticipate several more before I’m through. Some of them have been more fun than others, and some of highlighted my strengths, while others have demonstrated just how much I have to learn.
Yet there’s only one assignment that would cause me to run screaming into the night:
Yikes. I shudder just thinking about it.
Quite frankly, I loathe Scouting. Every traumatic experience of my childhood can somehow be traced back to the Boy Scouts of America. And since Scouting is the official boy’s youth program for the LDS Church, all three of my sons will likely be wearing those tacky khaki shirts and learning the Scout Law. And, sooner or later, someone’s going to ask me to get involved in their “Be Prepared” preparation. At which point I will vomit.
From whence cometh my Scoutaphobia? It wasn’t just the kid who put a dead fish in my tent at scout camp, which invited a colony of ants to take up residence in my sleeping bag. Or the time I was sent from campsite to campsite in search of bear repellent, which doesn’t exist. Or the Patrol Leader who enforced discipline by clocking me in the jaw. All of these helped, certainly, but I think it was the Order of the Arrow that put me over the top.
The Order of the Arrow is a secret society within Scouting, one with secrets so secret that I can never reveal them, mainly because I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember is the three-day nightmare induction ceremony which was called, appropriately, The Ordeal.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Ordeal begins at a Scouting Camporee, at the “tap-out.” That’s where some scrawny kid with a loincloth and a faux Indian headdress hit me on the shoulder with a tomahawk while I was sitting around a campfire. At that point, I became a “candidate” for the Order of the Arrow, and I was under a vow of silence until I performed an act of service for my parents the next day. So, the next morning, I dutifully, silently emptied the dishwasher. After that, the vow was lifted, and I could talk freely about how much the previous night sucked.
So a few weeks after the “tap-out,” I headed off to Camp Whitsett, a scout camp up in the hinterlands of nowhere, where I was put back under a vow of silence and told to go sleep in the woods, alone. No tent. No foam cushion. No pillow. Just me, a sleeping bag, and plenty of rocks. In the middle of the night, my ears began to freeze, and I buried my head inside the sleeping bag, which was covered with ice the next morning when I awoke.
That’s when the party began.
For breakfast, I was given a plastic Dixie cup, a raw egg, and a match. I think I succeeded in boiling the egg somehow, but I can’t remember being too happy about it. Lunch was half a slice of white bread with half a piece of baloney. Dinner was a carrot and a gumdrop. The intervening hours were spent in slave labor clearing brush and digging ditches, all in complete silence, because of the stupid silence vow, which I broke repeatedly. Our only respite came in the form of a one-hour pseudo-therapy session where the vow was temporarily lifted and we could confess our sins to grown men in Scout uniforms, and they proceeded to break beads on our little Order of the Arrow badges for each of our transgressions. I only got one of my beads broken, I think. Perhaps I should have broken more. Maybe I would have felt better. I certainly was in the perfect mood for breaking things.
After we’d finished our carrots and our gumdrops, we were led around by ropes in total darkness, still under the vow of silence, only now, we were being forced to keep our eyes closed. Scout Nazi enforcement squads walked up and down the line and whacked you in the back of the head if you tried to peek. After what seemed like an hour, I was allowed to open my eyes to see some weird, creepy Indian ceremony in front of a campfire, which would last a couple of minutes or so, and then you were led to the next station, where you did the same thing. It’s here that I think the Order’s deepest secrets were revealed. I’m sure they were very important. I had to go the bathroom.
I realize I’m being somewhat negative here, and that’s unfortunate. There were the good times, too. It was in Scouting where I learned how to ignite my farts with a Bic lighter without singeing my anus. I also learned the value of teamwork when my fellow Scouts and I would urinate together on campfires to put them out. I learned the meaning of the word “smegma.”
What a wonderful Scoutmaster I will make.