Today I posted an open letter that I wrote to The Boy Scouts of America. You can read it if you like, I don’t need to rehash it here.
I know lots of people are wondering why they should care so much about this thing. I just want to quickly tell you why I think it’s such an important issue that everyone needs to care about.
But first, let me tell you about my nipple getting ripped off. Er, mostly anyway.
It was the summer of 1993. I was at a Boy Scout summer camp with my troop for the week. A lot of shenanigans go on at those camps. Which they should. It’s a camp full of twelve and thirteen year old boys.
Anyway, down in the pond there were a ton of canoes, and one day several troops challenged ours to a canoe sinking war. Nobody was going to turn that down. So, I climbed into a canoe with a couple other guys, and we all paddled to the middle of the treacherous (four foot deep) pond and waited for the whistle to blow. There must have been fifteen or twenty canoes, all with three or four scouts in each one.
Let me explain to you how canoe sinking wars work.
There are no rules. Not really. You just do everything you can to tip the other guys’ canoes, and the last one floating is the winner. So, when that whistle did blow, you can just imagine the mayhem and craziness of it all. I still have Vietnam-type flashbacks from that day. Screams. Flailing arms. Splashing. Yelling. Groans. Grunts. Smashing. Thrashing. And every other crazy thing you can imagine.
And then it happened. “Move me closer guys!” I yelled to the boys on the other end of my canoe. Another troop’s canoe was almost within reaching distance, and if I could just reach… out… a little… closer…
I was stretched out across the edge of my own canoe, across a span of water, and then… I got it! A firm grip on the other canoe! It was going down.
As I tried to push the other canoe under the water to submerge it, I don’t know what happened for sure. All I know was that my end of the canoe violently swung hard toward their end of the canoe, and suddenly I felt pain like I’d never felt before.
I screamed. And looked down. The two canoes had come together and pinched my nipple between them both and… ripped that sucker off. Er, mostly, anyway.
Gross amounts of blood began flowing immediately down my chest. My nipple was hanging like a flap, still connected by a small amount of tissue. I didn’t scream again after that. The pain was too incredible. I just stared at it. Then I stuck my finger under it, and folded it back up. When I let go it flopped down again. I started hyperventilating.
And, because I was a dumb 13 year old boy, I decided not to tell any of the leaders. Instead, I snuck into my tent, got into my first aid kit, and taped that sucker back on (once the bleeding had stopped which took an hour or two at least), and for the next two weeks I walked around putting pressure on it non-stop. People must have thought I was really patriotic. At night I stacked books on top of it. I was going to fix it, dang it. I wouldn’t go through life without a nipple.
And… it healed back in place. To this day I look back and wonder how I didn’t die of an infection or why the tissue reconnected at all. I just know I still have two nipples and you can’t really tell anything happened. Sure, that nipple has little feeling in it, and the area surrounding it is hyper-sensitive, but it’s there, and it’s a constant reminder of my time in the Boy Scout program.
I had a lot of other incredible times as well. Once I pooped my pants on a Scout hike and was so embarrassed that I hid in the forest while I figured out what to do. By the time I went back down to the trailhead, a big search and rescue party was being organized for me. Another time I was sledding down a hill in my Scout master’s back yard and ran over a tree he had planted earlier that year. It snapped in two and he got so mad and yelled, “get out of my yard, fat ass.” Which sounds harsh, and it was, but it was a moment that really affected me in so many ways and I’d never trade it. I’d never trade crapping my pants. Or getting my nipple ripped off. Or any of the other dozens of stories (both positive and sometimes negative) I have from Boy Scouts because, to be honest, that’s what Boy Scouts is all about. It’s about teaching boys about life, and about handling life, and about being prepared for… anything. It’s not all about shooting rifles and whittling and sewing on patches.
It’s an important program. It’s a program that should be growing, not shrinking, especially in this ever-worsening world we are living in where kids are being raised so often without responsibility or sense of community.
But it’s also more than that.