Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Birthday Girl Scouts!

Sure, I could write about Halloween. That would be the easy thing to do. I could write about trekking over to a local park with my spouse, sister, and nephew, and the absolute mania that comes when you mix kids, adults, costumes, and free stuff. People will stand in line that long for a free hot dog? Really? People will then argue over which kids gets a hot dog first? Really?

That last part I just imagined. We didn't stand in the hot dog line. We have hot dogs at home. And they're better quality.

We did stand in the face painting line, because it was relatively short, and my nephew loves to have his face painted. Apparently, lots of kids like having their faces painted. Hmm. I could write a post that talks about our fierce desire to be someone else--by dressing up in costumes, by having our face painted. Or is it really just the age-old quest for adornment?

I could write about the fact that it's Reformation Sunday. But I've already written several posts on my theology blog (go here, here, or here, if you're in the mood for something more spiritual).

But no, I'd rather write about how today is the birthday of Juliette Gordon Low, born in 1860, founder of the Girl Scouts. What a different world we would have if she, or someone like her, had never founded the Girl Scouts.

In our current world, when we have more females finishing college degrees than males, when more female wage earners are hanging on to jobs than certain male wage earners, it's hard to remember a more constrained time that females endured not so long ago. Along came Juliette Gordon Low, a female artist who like sculpture and working in iron.

The Girl Scouts as I experienced them are designed to expose girls to a wide wealth of experience so that they can discover their passions. Thus a girl could earn a badge in any number of the arts--or in computing, or environmental concerns, or in more traditional areas. In my day, you could earn badges in sewing and certain homemaking arts.

Our Girl Scout troop went camping periodically, at Girl Scout camps, where we slept in huge, canvas tents permanently set up on wooden platforms. We used our cookstoves that we'd made out of coffee cans and for flame, we'd rolled corrugated cardboard around the inside of a tuna can and drenched the whole thing in paraffin. We put our dirty utensils and plates in a mesh bag and dunked the bag in soapy water and clean water.

Older girls went backpacking--back in the days when going into the wilderness truly meant being off the grid. Later, during the summer after my first year of college, I was a backpacking counselor at a Girl Scout camp. There were 3 of us. We went out into the woods, and a week later, someone picked us up. In between, we were on our own. Happily, we endured nothing worse than a huge thunderstorm and weeping girls on the very first night of the trip.

The sun came out the next day, and we dried out our gear. The girls had a great time in the Chatooga River as they swam from South Carolina to Georgia and back again. We all learned some self-reliance and endurance. We didn't cave in to the girls who wanted to call it quits and go home. We hiked onward, and I suspect that we all remember it as a high point of our lives, now that we're all ensconced in office jobs and family responsibilities.

A few years ago, I came across a picture of the three counselors. I didn't recognize myself. I looked so young and fierce, so tightly honed. What happened to that body?

Well, the body may have sagged and gained some weight, but my fierceness remains. I have a self-determination and a rugged endurance that many of my female peers do not have.

You might argue that I had those qualities before, and that's what led me to Scouting. You would be wrong. I took that Girl Scout camp job at Congaree Girl Scout camp because I didn't have any other prospects for summer employment. The pay was miserable, but I felt I had no other choice. I couldn't even find a fast food job. I came to Girl Scout camp feeling like the world's biggest loser--what kind of teenager couldn't even find a job in fast food? And I had experience--I'd worked at Wendy's! And that didn't help.

I remember feeling a cowering fear that I couldn't possibly be responsible for these girls. And yet, I was, and I rose to the occasion.

And that's the beauty of Girl Scouts. We find out that we are made of sterner stuff than we thought. We find out that we have infinite capabilities, and the sorrow of our lives will be that we only have time to tap into some of them. We discover that we have vast reservoirs of strength and courage. So, thanks Juliette Gordon Low--thanks for not believing the lies your culture fed you about womanhood, and thanks for blazing a trail for the generations that came after you.

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