It is a lesson I learned when I was fourteen.
I was a boy scout. Not a good boy scout evidently. Later that year they would ask me to leave. I was not good at following rules and doing things by the book, which in the boy scout world was the the boy scout manual.
The boy scout manual had a way to do everything. And it was not just A way, it was THE way. The only way. I am sure they had a reason for this discipline. Probably to teach boys, an unruly lot at best, discipline. I however had a particularly undisciplined and curious nature. I ready the book. I really did. But put me out in the woods and I would always wonder “what if I did it this way instead.”
Now and again, that curiosity got me in trouble. 14 year old boys (and 66 year old men for that matter) have wild haired ideas sometimes, some of which work and some of which are a disaster.). But most of the time, that curiosity worked in my favor. There were better ways to do things than the book offered.
In the end, that nature, which was less rebellious than curious was just too much for the leaders of my troop. On a camping trip where we camped near a set of train tracks I decided to make my camp fire out of coal that had falled near the tracks from the nightly coal trains, instead of by gathering dead wood (the book way.) It made a great fire – hot and long lasting without having to feed it fresh wood every few minutes. But it was a rebellion too far for the leaders. I was asked, politely, to leave.
But that is not what I began to write about here. I was writing of the lesson I learned at fourteen, before they sent me packing.
We were hiking on a mountain called “Old Rag.” It is a great hike. There were maybe forty of us fresh faced young scouts. It was to be a few hour hike. Easy peasy. Follow the white markers and the trees, just like the book said. Off we set in the early morning.
It was a hot day. Before long the humidity was taking its toll on us city boys. We kept walking. The white markers grew faint. At a couple of crossroads they were none existent and the leaders made choices based on… well I don’t know what it was based on. On and on we went until we were walking paths without markers, late in the day.
I knew we had made a mistake somewhere. Missed something somewhere. But the leaders were determined to keep going forward. I finally announced, with all the certainty that only a teenager can muster, that I was going back to find out where we went wrong. One of the leaders and maybe half a dozen of us followed.
We went back and guess what? We found the mistake, finished the hike and made it back just fine, waiting for hours and hours for the rest of the troop, who finally straggled back in, worn, tired, stumbling in exhaustion. Another thirty minutes and the leader that came with us the first time would have gone for a ranger and initiated a search.
We, while they were struggling lost, had a blast. Playing in the creek. Resting in the shade. Glad we had made the choice to go backwards. When we asked the larger group how they had made it back they sheepishly admitted they ended up retracing their steps, much as we had.
And me? I had gained the reputation of a rebel that would eventually send me packing from the scouts.
It could have gone badly. As an adult, I realize that. But it did not. And it would not be the first time in my life I ended up having to take a step backward to go forward. I say this often, life is more of a cha-cha than a constant, always forward thing. But mostly, we don’t like taking that step back. If feels like failure. Even when it’s just part of the dance of life. And at time, it’s wisdom.
And it takes wisdom to know when to step back. And courage. And humbleness. I have learned that over two or three major changes in my life. Always with trepidation and feeling bad that I had to do it, and always. (ALWAYS!) with good results. Sometimes, it’s OK to admit you’re on the wrong path, I have learned.
Sometimes, I admit, my cha cha has come when things fell apart. But sometimes they have come when I just said “this is not working.” and taken the time retracing my steps in life. Sometimes, taking that time to simply look and listen to yourself and your heart and your soul seems like you are doing nothing when instead, it is the biggest step you can take.
Be well. Travel wisely. Sending love, where ever you are in your soul’s dance.