I learned that the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910 “to teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.”
I learned that the most satisfying meal is a single banana and gulp of water after a day of much hiking and little food. Even if you hate bananas.
I learned that if you capsize in a small sailboat, you should try to bail out some of the water that has accumulated in the hull it before hopping back in.
I learned that institutions steeped in tradition do not change quickly enough.
I learned that a good friend of mine was gay, and that was why he had to abruptly leave our troop, even though he was by far the most competent Scout in our ranks.
I learned that you can do the bare minimum and persuade a merit badge counselor to grudgingly sign off on your art merit badge. But it feels a lot better when the basketry instructor wants to keep your warp-and-weft masterpiece as an example for future Scouts.
I learned what it feels like to jump 40 feet into a deep pool of freezing-cold water.
I learned that some of the bravest people are the ones who acknowledge who they are, knowing the consequences of telling the truth.
I learned how to use a compass.
I learned that you should always check whether the tide is coming in before you hike along a narrow beach abutting a steep cliff.
I learned that those who told children to be brave for decades ostracized vulnerable young men simply because of their sexual orientation.
I learned that those leaders were themselves afraid that membership would fall when some religious organizations ended their partnership with the Scouts after the organization finally stopped expelling boys based on who they were.
I learned to hate the cowardice those leaders exhibited.
I learned to hate my own, after I failed to stand up for my friend in front of adult leaders.
I learned that, when using a pocket knife, you always cut away from your body.
I learned that nature does not spare your feelings, and a wildfire in the Angeles National Forest might suddenly consume your favorite campgrounds.
I learned to fear bears less.
I learned to fear ticks more.
I learned that nearly a million adults volunteer their time to mentor young people in the scouting program.
I learned that some of the people involved in scouting do wrong, like the 7,819 who, according to an internal investigation commissioned by the Boy Scouts of America, may have sexually assaulted or abused 12,254 boys between 1946 and 2016. And one might not hear about that wrongdoing until years after it occurred.
I learned many adjectives. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
I learned that I rarely qualified to be a Scout.
I learned to try harder.
I learned that if I brought a heavy pan on a backpacking trip, no one was going to carry it back out for me.
I learned that even an awkward late bloomer, the second-shortest person in his 8th-grade class, could carry a heavy pan on a backpacking trip.
I learned that female Boy Scout leaders were often tougher than male ones.
I learned that their daughters should have been allowed to become Eagle Scouts years before the program finally became more inclusive.
I learned that you never tie a slipknot when you’re throwing a line out to a drowning person. Always tie a bowline.
I learned CPR.
I learned that I could swim a mile.
I learned that life is rarely simple, but rather a disordered cacophony of triumphs, failures, facts, impressions, intentions, hopes, fears and acts of courage. Good lessons come from imperfect sources. Flawed people make bad decisions for what they think are good reasons. Sometimes your assumptions about your friends and the adults around you can be upended when you’re just trying to up your archery score. Fond memories can get mixed up with dark questions and horrible truths.
I learned that it is easy to be angry. It is harder to be both angry and grateful.