Mitch was the quietest of scouts. I took this photo at his last Pack Meeting. It was a cold December night when Mitch received a handful of advancements he had worked hard to earn. As he placed the small pile of awards between his legs, he held on to his rank advancement with a thoughtful look on his face. I wondered what was on his mind. I asked him later that night but he smiled and looked in the other direction, like he often did. 

Something was changing inside him; I couldn't put my finger on it, but I sensed it. A year and a half before his heart failure I told a few people close to me about my growing impressions that Mitchell’s soul was being prepared for a significant change. I knew something was happening.

One of his fellow Cub Scouts pushed Mitch in his wheelchair back with his Pack. While not a Boy Scout, yet, I kept thinking of Mitch and the Scout Oath that begins “On my honor … I will do my best.” 

Mitch was always on his honor, and he always did his best. Because Mitch was a young man of honor I trusted him implicitly. I never once worried he would break his word. I knew he would never lie. To Mitch, honor was everything.

Earlier that fall Mitch was showing me one of his favorite games, The Sims, and described how he was struggling with something. He loved that game because it provided a simulated framework for his imagination. He didn't have the muscle strength to build forts and other things young boys did. In fact, he was reaching a point that picking up a glass of milk at the dinner table became increasingly hard for him - sometimes impossible. So certain video games became a fertile ground for his mind and set his youthful imagination free. On this particular game Mitch had built a beautiful home, had a job, managed his relationships and money wisely … he even had some pets that he cared for. When I learned of his struggle with a part of the game I suggested he search online to find a workaround and he responded, “No …” then paused a moment, “that would take the challenge out of it - and then there would be no point. The game would be no fun.” Those were his exact words.

I was so impressed with Mitchell’s discipline to not take short cuts – but to do the work the game was designed to require. Mitch knew the value of struggle. He understood the struggle was the reason. He knew struggle created an environment for growth and change. I turned to him and said, “Mitchie, you are exactly right. Don’t ever change.”

A few months would pass and my sweet boy would die, and part of me would die also. While my heart cries out and searches for some kind of workaround for grief, to make my way through this hardship more easily, I remember my son’s reverence of the struggle. Mitch taught me that to cheat ourselves from the hard stuff is to cheat ourselves of the good stuff. 

How is it these little children come into our lives and teach us infinitely more that we teach them? True it is, out of small and simple things are great things brought to pass. 

Last night I went to a Young Men’s orientation for youth in my neighborhood and church. My oldest son, Ethan, was recently called to be a youth leader among his peers and he was asked to speak briefly to some parents and younger boys who were coming of age to join Boy Scouts and other church/youth programs. I was so proud of Ethan. In the same room was one of Mitchell’s best neighborhood friends, Derek. Mitch loved Derek like a brother. I cannot look at him and not think of my fallen son. He was one of the boys who played Nerf wars with Mitch (see album Special Ops). I’ll write more of their special relationship another day. But I realized last night that Mitch should have been in this meeting, too. But Mitch was gone … and the world rushed madly on. 

Therein lies another challenge for those who grieve. Our loved ones become a footnote in history. Memories fade as the somber silence is slowly flooded with the noise of now. And that is how it should be, I suppose. We must move on – yet we’re desperate to remember. I long for my son today even more than the day I lost him. 

So last night was sobering for me. I sat in the same room this photo was taken almost a year ago and saw a rising generation of young boys advancing from one phase of life to the next. I sat in the back, near the exit in case emotions overcame me. I saw an empty chair where my son should have been and my heart ached to see his shy smile and hear his quite voice. I could almost see him there … looking back at me to make sure I was there and that he wasn't alone. 

In my mind I remembered once again the Scout Oath “On my honor I will do my best …” and thought of my son. A little boy who was weak and broken … who honored the struggle as both necessary and rewarding. I suppose when we've figured that out we can truly advance. 

Thank you, son. On my honor, I will do my best.