Who would ever think that a valuable lesson could be learned from a bottle? Certainly not me, until one memorable spring. That particular spring was special to me because if all went according to schedule I would soon reach a goal for which I had been striving for almost three years—receiving my Eagle Scout badge.
In addition to the joy inherent in this event, even more happiness would result because I would be able to receive the award with my best friend. We had grown up together almost from infanthood and were like brothers. Our experience in the Scouting program was no different. We had advanced from the rank of Tenderfoot more or less simultaneously and looked forward to culminating our efforts at the same Eagle court of honor.
Only one thing stood between us and this great event—our Eagle boards of review. We would be interviewed individually by a board of two or three men chosen from the leadership of our Scout district. These men were to evaluate us on our attitudes about such things as the rank of Eagle, the Scouting program in general, our country, and our Eagle Scout service projects. The service project was to be an extraordinary act of service to our community and was the final requirement in the difficult climb to the rank of Eagle. To ensure that my project would be accepted by my review board, I presented it to a few of the district leaders before going ahead with it. They assured me that it would be fine.
Finally the long-awaited night came when my friend and I were to go before our boards of review. The wait to be called into one of the interview rooms seemed endless. All I could think about was how hard I had worked for my Eagle and the fact that, in only a few moments, I would know the result of my painstaking efforts—success or failure.
At last, after an eternity of ten minutes, I was called in. My friend followed shortly after me into a nearby room. After talking for a few minutes, the board asked me about my service project. We discussed it in detail, and I then was asked to step out while they deliberated. The wait to go into the interview was nothing compared to this.
The heavy silence in the hallway was finally shattered by the opening of the interview room door. I was asked, along with my parents and Scoutmaster, to come back into the room. The leader of the board began by praising me for reaching this most advanced step in the Scouting program. Now all of this praise was fine, but in the back of my mind I kept imagining him saying, “But …” or “However. …” Little did I realize that this nightmare would actually come to pass. After a few minutes of polite admiration, the board leader said, “However, we don’t feel your service project was quite involved enough to merit awarding you the Eagle badge.” Never before had I felt slammed so low so fast. I was deflated. I have no idea what they said from that point on. I felt nothing, thought nothing. I do remember, however, being very self-conscious as I burst into tears in front of Eagle candidates as I passed the room in which I had so anxiously waited earlier. I also remember hearing that my close friend, with whom I had worked side by side for three long years, passed his board of review with flying colors. He would be receiving his Eagle badge at the upcoming Eagle court of honor—without me. The feeling of depression and humiliation that I experienced cannot be expressed in words. What I had considered to be a very small step in the staircase toward the rank of Eagle, indeed, a step that I had taken for granted, turned out to be the one that kept me from reaching my goal. Would I be able to bounce back from this seemingly insurmountable failure? Well, if my dad had anything to say about it, yes.
A couple of days later, my dad asked me if I wanted to go for a ride with him in the car. At the time, I had nothing better to do so I decided “Why not?” I had no idea where we were going, but this information was soon revealed to me. As we came closer to the nearby bottling plant, I realized that this, for some strange reason, was to be our destination. We entered the building at the head of the bottle-making process. Dad pointed out to me the huge stores of sand from which the glass was made. We were fascinated as we watched the large drops of white-hot, liquid glass fall into the bottle molds.
He took me through the entire process, explaining what each piece of machinery did to the bottles as they progressed toward completion. Near the end of the process, Dad pointed out to me a machine that performed a task called “annealing.” The annealer was a device that applied tremendous pressure to each bottle to determine if it was strong enough to be deemed “safe for public use.” Many bottles broke under the pressure. Dad suggested that I might want to take one of the discarded bottles as a reminder of the trip. I remember thinking, “Dad, this has been a very interesting excursion, but is it really necessary for me to carry a bottle around for the rest of my life to remind me of it?”
Little did I realize the significance that this bottle would come to hold. On the way home Dad turned to me and said, “Craig, what you have just gone through with your Eagle board of review is like your annealing process. You have been put under extra pressure like the bottles. What comes of this experience is up to you. You can either break because of this pressure, or you can withstand it and bounce back. If you do bounce back, you will have not only caught up with your friend, but later in life, because of the extra strength you will acquire as you overcome this additional obstacle, you will probably even surpass him.”
After my dad told me this, I thanked him. I was truly grateful that he had given me something to ease the pain. But it wasn’t until several years later that I came to appreciate all that this experience meant. I realized that my father was special, very special. He was not only willing to take the time to show me through the bottling plant, but it took a good deal of creative thinking to come up with the idea. There are some fathers who, under the same circumstances, would simply have said, “That’s too bad son. I really thought you’d get it” or, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to give it another try. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my golf game.”
The lesson I was taught at the bottling plant was, and still is, very valuable. Because of it, I went on to get my Eagle badge, and the discarded bottle I picked up that day has become one of my most treasured possessions. But more important is the lesson my dad showed me in simply noticing that his son had a problem and then setting out to help him solve it. And what a creative way of doing it! Because of the unusual, yet very effective method he used to teach me the lesson, I have remembered it for over nine years. I only hope that when I have children, I will be able to follow the example of my father and make the time to put first things first.