Last Sunday, I finished staffing my sixth and final Wood Badge training course. For those not in the Scouting world, Wood Badge is an intensive two-weekend leadership training course offered by the Boy Scouts of Americathat features management/executive training with a Scouting slant. When participants complete the course, they are presented with two wooden beads on a leather thong… literally a wooden badge.
If you know me remotely well, you likely know Wood Badge means a great deal to me. Since my course in 2015, I have refined skills that have made me a better listener, mediator, mentor, and far more empathetic than I used to be. I went beyond my introverted comfort zone more times than I can count, often to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. I’ve also gained some of the best friends I’ve had in my life. I don’t exaggerate when I say Wood Badge has forever changed me.
Although I don’t want to make this the focus, it’s important to note that I am not willingly walking away. Current rules have capped volunteer staffing opportunities to five, and this stint as SPL was my sixth course. Before the rule took hold, I was slated to direct our Fall 2023 course.
For something that has meant so much to me, receiving that news sent me through all the stages of grief. I’m only recently in a wobbly state of acceptance. I wanted to accomplish more. There would have been a frenetic, vibrating truckload of Wood Badge magic available on a course with Jeremy Fuksa at the helm.
Anyway. Enough about that.
I also have an affinity for the flair of ceremonies and assigning deeper meaning to the everyday. Again, if you know me remotely well, you likely know that. On the first weekend, as I was wavering between depression and acceptance, I wondered, “How could I always be part of Wood Badge in the Heart of America Council”? The answer was simple.
As I walked away from our Gilwell assembly field for the last time, I did so, having left a part of me behind… figuratively and literally. In a small, personal, nighttime ceremony, I buried my wooden beads on that assembly field at Theodore Naish Scout Reservation. This particular set of beads came from the real Gilwell Park in England and was gifted to me years ago by my cousin Timothy P. O’Connorwhen he learned I was staffing my first course.
Whenever Troop 1 assembles on Gilwell Field, I will be there.
Over the years, I have run into Wood Badgers that I’ve helped teach, and, more often than not, I don’t remember their name. I apologetically admit that I’m not good with names in the first place. But, also, there have been many people I’ve trained in seven years. Three hundred twenty-three, to be exact. While I may not be great at individual names, those 323 Scouters have collectively impacted me in ways they will probably never know.
Each course had its distinct vibe, and I could probably write 10,000 words on what I gained from each. Some vibes were good, some not quite as good. But every vibe resonated with me, completely exhausted me, and remade me into the next version of myself, ready to take on the world for another year. It’s going to be damn hard to find something in the future that will have this power of annual inspiration and regrowth.
Many say that a door of opportunity opens when another closes. That’s the case for me. I will take my youth experience with Order of the Arrow ceremonies and my flair for the deeper meaning in things and put it all to use as a ceremonial advisor for Tamegonit Lodge. As a kid, OA was my Wood Badge. Sometimes it’s nice to come full circle. And I’ll be doing it with new friends I gained while staffing Wood Badge.
Thank you to every Scouter who touched my life over the past seven years. Words can’t convey my gratitude for what you’ve given me.