At the end of a meeting, or the closing of a campfire, there is a tradition in Scouting to give the Scoutmaster a minute. He can have something prepared, there are books of ideas, or he can speak off the cuff. I did a few hundred of these through the years. I doubt that anyone remembers most of them. I tried to be brief, and to have a point.
Sometimes I would pick out a Scout or a Patrol. Particularly at a campfire, at the end of a day, if I had noticed a Scout doing something noteworthy, I would praise him in front of the Troop. If a Patrol had done an especially good job on a project, they got personal recognition. Always positive, and always tying it to the Scout Law.
Usually it was something I had read, or something from the news, tying it into Scouting and giving my thoughts. I took this opportunity seriously, it was one more way I had to make some personal statement to the Scouts.
One Scoutmaster Minute stands out, even eight years later. In September of 2001, when the Troop gathered for the first meeting that occurred after the Islamist attack on the United States, it fell to me to have something to say. I remember that meeting. The solemn way the Scouts handled it, the colors of the flags in the opening, the depth of richness in the words of the Oath and Law, the way they stood as we saluted and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
At the end of the meeting, I had them in a circle of chairs and I sat in one. I looked around at the faces and thought again of the trust and responsibility of the role of Scoutmaster. And I said:
Those attacks were terrible and they made us all come together. Everywhere you look today there are American flags. People think they have discovered what it means to love their country. But, I’m going to tell you something you won’t believe. It won’t last. Those flags will fade, or be taken down. People will forget.
We sending men to fight, and that means some of them will be hurt, and some will die. And when that happens, there will be protests, and all of this patriotism will be forgotten. So remember me and my words when you see it happen.
Because I was a patriot when it wasn’t cool, I am a patriot now, and I will be a patriot when all this flag waving is done. I want all of you to think this evening about what being an American, and being a Boy Scout, means, about what real patriotism is. Your answers don’t have to be the same as mine, but they deserve your thoughts and your time.
I don’t know if the Scouts that were there that night especially remember that Scoutmaster Minute. It isn’t always given to us to know if we have made a difference. That might not even have been the right things to say to them at that moment. Like all Scouts and Scouters, all I can say is I did my best.
What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility … a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.