A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


For most of the Boy Scouts in Troop 996, the Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge was just another Scout award to work on.  But for Marlow and Cameron, it was something more.

Marlow is a great kid and a good Scout.  He lives life with energy, passion and an abundance of joy.  He is also mentally challenged, and that disability mixed with his innate zest for life and the people who live it sometimes makes him a handful for his Scout leaders to deal with.  But his parents are deeply involved in his life, and they are almost always there to help support the Scoutmaster as Marlow participates with the other boys in the Scouting program.

Truth be told, the Scoutmaster chose to have the troop work on the Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge because he hoped it would help the other boys gain a greater appreciation for Marlow and the challenges he faced in his life as a result of his limitations.  Please don’t misunderstand: the boys are patient with Marlow – especially Cameron, one of the leaders of the group.  They help Marlow when he needs help, as he often does, and they smile and accept his energetic outbursts that occasionally disrupt activities.  But it’s one thing to tolerate someone and quite another thing to really understand them, and the Scoutmaster hoped working on the merit badge would help move the boys closer to understanding.

  And it did.  The boys learned a lot about many of the challenges faced by those with disabilities.  But they also learned a lot about Marlow – who, it turns out, could be just as easily defined by his ability as by his disability.

To fulfill one of the merit badge requirements the Scoutmaster took the troop to the local public library, where they had to try to get around and perform certain simple tasks while confined to wheelchairs.  They discovered that most of the books in the library were on shelves that they couldn’t reach comfortably from a wheelchair.  They found that even though the restroom had a special stall for the elderly and disabled, it was almost impossible to maneuver the wheelchair appropriately in that stall.  And they experienced first-hand the frustration of trying to get a drink from a drinking fountain.

Cameron, the tallest Scout and a gifted athlete and musician, found the drinking fountain experience to be especially galling.  He kept trying to re-position the wheelchair in such a way that he could get a drink, but ended up getting more water on his Scout shirt than in his mouth.  Finally he gave up on the water and tried to roll his way back into the library, but he had a difficult time holding the door open while rolling his wheelchair through it.  Cameron isn’t used to having to struggle to perform simple tasks like getting a drink of water and opening a door, and you could see concern, frustration, anguish and embarrassment clearly etched on his handsome – and usually smiling – face.  At one point he just stopped struggling, and sat slumped in his chair, his chin nearly resting on his chest.

That was when Marlow stepped in.  Marlow has always looked up to Cameron – literally and figuratively – and he was watching his library struggle.  You could see his face flush with empathetic agony with each new challenge.  When Cameron quit, Marlow rushed to his side.

“You can do it!” he said with his typical energy and enthusiasm.  “I’ll help you!”

He held the door open for Cameron.  The Scoutmaster’s first impulse was to step in.  The whole point of the exercise was to have these young men experience this frustration, and perhaps learn from it.  But he sensed that there was another kind of learning that was spontaneously happening, and he decided to allow it to play itself out.

“Come on, Cameron!” Marlow shouted.  “You can do it!”

Cameron looked at Marlow and smiled weakly.  Slowly he rolled his wheelchair through the door and into the library.  “Thanks, Marlow,” he said as he rolled past.  “I wouldn’t have made it without you.”

“That’s OK,” Marlow said.  “It’s good to help.”

For once in their young lives their roles were reversed.  Cameron needed help, and Marlow provided it.

And for both of them, it was good.

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— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

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Christmas on Mill Street - An All New Holiday Novel!