Thursday, May 28, 2015

You're NEVER Gonna Keep Me Down!

All the way back in January 1998, I joined a local Cub Scout pack thanks to a friend from church and his father's involvement with it.  (You may think you know this story, but, keep reading.) I participated in the Pinewood Derbies, the various cheers, "Boom Chicka Boom", summer day camp, and several other activities during my time there.  Two years later, it became time for me to transition to Boy Scouting...but I almost didn't do it, and I would have quit after finishing Cub Scouting if it hadn't been for my sister's insistence that I keep going.

What happened? Some of you may remember me saying that I never planned on being a Boy Scout; honestly, I used to think that was the case, but, I had a bit of doubt about that fact, and another memory from that time told me exactly what happened: I got discouraged.  No, it wasn't a product of bullying or anything; in fact, the thought of it still breaks my heart to this day.  I remember it like it was yesterday: My brother-in-law--a Scout leader--and I were just starting to head home, and I was in a very happy and chatty mood; I was talking about a fake cassette-playing jukebox that my fourth grade teacher had, when he delivered some news that shocked me to the core.  Long story short, there were two fellow Scouts who were younger than I was, but were moving up to Boy Scouting despite not being old enough...yet, I was old enough to transition, but I was nonetheless going to spend the next year being the only middle schooler in the country still in Cub Scouting.  This news was very disheartening to me; in fact, when I got home and told my mom, I cried, and was still lamenting it well after that.  I had fought against not being in the right group in Scouting for my age, but, the powers that be wouldn't do anything about it.  It became ten times as disheartening when I discovered that becoming a Boy Scout at a later age than normal gave me a year and a half less to earn Eagle, and right around the time I found out I had Asperger Syndrome, whereas those other two guys--who were good Scouts; otherwise, they wouldn't have transitioned early--didn't even need any extra time...but still got it.  Another disheartening detail was that my brother-in-law wanted to buy some knives for those new Boy Scouts, but, when my sister found out about it, she didn't feel it was appropriate for them due to their age, which led to my sister and brother-in-law getting in a huge fight the whole way to church one Wednesday night.  Looking back, I can kind of see both sides: Part of Boy Scouting is learning wilderness survival, which means learning how to use a knife as a tool, and I'm pretty sure that my brother-in-law wouldn't have bought something like that for those guys if they didn't need it...but that's still a bit much for kids who are young enough to be Cub Scouts.

That entire situation just really discouraged me, which is why, even during the thirteen months I was in Boy Scouting, I rarely participated, much to my sister and brother-in-law's chagrin.  I went on a total of two camping trips--well, three if you count the one that was in a heated/air conditioned gym; I wouldn't--and used to hide in the bathroom and elsewhere during parts of the weekly meetings.  After just over a year, my mom finally pulled the plug, which was only because I kept going back and forth about attending the monthly trips...because I didn't want to go in the first place.  My brother-in-law said of two different leaders, "He does not want to give up on you!"; me jumping ship probably broke their hearts, and others' as well.

By now, you're probably wondering what the point of that story was...and I do have one: I let the circumstances discourage me...but I shouldn't have.  Even if I got the short end of the stick from the Scout leaders, I could have used that as an opportunity to triumph despite my circumstances...but, instead, I wussed out and left Scouting first chance I got.  True, the hand they dealt me wasn't exactly fair, but, they would have been remarking about what I'd done if I'd just stuck to it instead of letting the circumstances bring me down...which is why I'm starting to regret giving up as early as I did.

It applies to more than just Scouting, though.  You probably know the familiar story of Sparky, the family dog whom I despised from day one, even though he was intended to be not only my pet, but my friend as well.  Before we got him, my mom had talked about getting another canine companion...but I argued against it the entire way.  The example I always used was something that happened with the dog we had before Sparky: One Sunday, I was very tired because I had just gotten back from a youth retreat to Raleigh, NC, but my mom asked me to feed the dog anyway.  I went and did it, but, I was so tired that even just walking to the backyard hurt...yet, as soon as I set foot in the house again, my mom immediately asked me, "Jerry, why didn't you run with him?" I couldn't believe she had the audacity to ask me that; did she not realize how tired I was? After that dog died later that year, I never wanted one again, because I was afraid of a repeat of that same incident; when my mom adopted Sparky, I was positively livid.  Looking back, my mom probably wasn't thinking; she had just started working nights, so, she was probably tired.  Regardless of why my mom did it, it wasn't the dog's fault, and Sparky didn't deserve to pay for it on his first night at our house.  While that circumstance was discouraging, it was my fault for letting it bring me down that badly.

It's the same story with other things as well.  I spent years refusing to drive was because of some people's remarks which I saw as discouraging, which I actually later realized were misinterpreted.  Sure, they said it would be difficult, but they didn't say it wouldn't happen! It's also the same with theme parks; after years of not being able to go to them with anyone outside the family, I started to lose interest, even though my mom's rule about them was not only for the sake of my friends and their parents, but also eventually rescinded.  In every case, I let circumstances keep me from things that I really could have enjoyed if only I'd given them the chance.

The only exception to that rule is entertainment.  Since I've always worn my favorite shows and such on my sleeve, I ended up enduring a lot of criticism...and not just from kids.  Many adults--including my mom--got tired of hearing or reading about the same topics again and again, and sometimes reacted in ways they normally wouldn't have because of it.  Despite that, though, I kept watching my favorite shows until I either decided that it was time to move on or couldn't do so anymore.  It seems that I was just determined to consume that audiovisual entertainment, no matter what anyone else thought...but that determination didn't seem to apply to anything else.

People often knew me for being unwilling to do quite a few things; in fact, that led to some serious arguments.  One of my teachers in high school thought it was unthinkable that I refused to go to Busch Gardens; she insisted that I'd have fun if I went, but I staunchly denied it...though without a legitimate reason.  Other people had the same issue; my sister even once told me, "You need to do things that do not involve your computer or CD player!" I think the message was clear: While consuming and researching audiovisual entertainment is fun, it's a problem when I don't want to do anything else.  Such people wanted me to get up and get out, not waste away doing the same things again and again.  Though I do attend social events at my church and elsewhere, entertainment has long taken precedence; a former friend mistakenly thought that I spent all my time reading books and watching TV shows because I never seemed to post about anything but those topics.  Even before that, my mom used to say that people probably thought I did nothing but sit around and watch TV because of the way I bandied about the names of my favorite shows and TV characters.

I've always said that I post about entertainment because it makes me happy...but does it really? It's largely a solitary pursuit; I rarely have someone watch my shows with me.  Even when I try to discuss movies I've recently watched, most of my friends have never seen them, even if they got a major theatrical release.  Plus, sitting around reading books isn't likely to get me a girlfriend; you have to be out meeting people to find the right match, not plopped down in your living room with your face glued to your iPad.  I think my entertainment addiction has really led to frustration.

So, what's to be done? First off: I think I need to abandon these rules about what I don't do.  If I want to have friends, I need to be willing to do things with them that they enjoy, which would include trips to Busch and similar places.  Past circumstances only have a hold on me when I let them.  Second off: When the seemingly unthinkable happens--and it tends to--I need to keep James 1:2-3 in mind: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." (NIV) I had something terrible happen to me before I was even two years old: my biological father walked out on me and my family for another woman.  Though I've been emotionally hurt by others, nothing anyone has ever done since has been more terrible than that...but, I know some of you have been through much worse.  You've been in abusive relationships; you've faced divorce or other romantic heartbreak; you've lost loved ones at the hands of someone else.  I may think what happened in Scouting was bad, but, I'll likely end up facing much worse; in fact, I kind of already have.  Such circumstances are tests to see how I'll react; if I keep my cool and don't lash out, I pass...but, if I lose my temper, I fail, and I've done just that too many times in the past, so, it's time to stop.

In conclusion, I'll say this: You probably know that I've discussed my hesitancy to get in a relationship because of all the married couples I've known who have eventually divorced.  I don't need to tell the stories again; in fact, if you have ever gone to school or church with me, you probably already know the people whose failed marriages I've referenced.  It's tragic what happened to them, and statistics show the the divorce rate is at an all-time high...but, that doesn't necessarily spell doom for a potential relationship in the future.  When I was contemplating leaving Boy Scouting, I was telling my mom of all the boys who had left my troop...but she told me that the only thing that mattered was what I wanted to do.  Many Scouts do end up chickening out; out of over 83.4 million boys who have been part of the program, only about two percent end up earning Eagle...but, their decisions don't affect mine.  It's the same with marriages: We all know someone who has been through some sort of romantic tragedy...but, that's no reason to give up on it completely.  Even if you are the recipient of the romantic raw deal, you just have to move on; like the old song says: "I get knocked down...but I get up again! You're never gonna keep me down!"

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