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Boy Scouts January 16, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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On the subway as I was making my way to the University, I found myself seated across an elderly couple. They were maybe about seventy, and their clothing belied the fact that they were probably not well-to-do, though perhaps not wanting for much either. Inevitably, I could not help but observe them (they were seated opposite me, after all), and found them to be the typical picture of a couple that had grown old with each other, practically joined at the hip as they were even in their advanced age.

Then I could see that something was wrong. The lady started to grow pale. Her breathing became more labored, and she would close her eyes in obvious discomfort. Without saying a word her husband sensed this, and began fumbling about his overcoat for his handkerchief and a plastic bag, for he knew that his wife was feeling queasy and was going to be sick.

He was right.

I remember thinking to myself how this man was the picture-perfect image of a boy scout: always prepared, in this case armed with a handkerchief and a throwaway plastic bag, ready to come to his wife’s aid. This image was burned into my memory because I have throughout my life been labeled a boy scout, what with my tendency to be clean-cut, my need to always have a hanky on hand, and my knack for having all sorts of useful accoutrements I could pull out of my pocket or bag that one would ordinarily not think to have on their person.

Yet for all of the old man’s preparedness, there was a flaw in the design: the impromptu plastic that he had handed to his wife had a hole, and thus the “sick” began to make a mess of her gloves, cap and coat. The husband tried to do his best to contain the untidiness – he still had his handkerchief, after all – but his wife continued to be sick, and the cloth could only do so much.

At this point my concern got the better of me: groping through my backpack, I found a stash of plastic bags I’d kept secreted away for some time and passed one on to the old man. He did not hesitate: he took it, placed it beneath the one he had given to his wife, and carefully began to tidy up the small mess on her things, all the while asking if she was alright and reassuring her that the mess was really nothing.

The both of them were very grateful for my gesture, and the old man even thanked me one last time before I stepped off the train at my stop.

It was at this point that it struck me: I don’t mind being a boy scout, even if good guys proverbially finish last. For if this old man, caring for his wife in the twilight of their years, is any indication of what lies ahead for the boy scouts of this world, then what a wonderful fate it is. There is a certain nobility in that against which even my present troubles cannot cast their ugly shadow.

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