Scouting Biography of Thomas L.
If you fully participate, there can be joy in each step of a project, but none if you don't. I knew a boy in Cub Scouts. After he went to sleep, his dad disappeared into the basement to work on his Pinewood Derby car, but I made my Raingutter Regatta boat myself. When the race started, the scout just watched the car roll down the track, as his dad excitedly ran around for the score reports, but I got to actively blow my boat forward. When the races were over, I held a trophy for 1st place in the District in one hand and a design award in the other hand as I talked to the scout about how at every step along the way I had a great time. He did not, and walked away having lost at every stage.
Even though I thought I couldn't, I participated in another Pinewood Derby. My mom was in the hospital. Every day, when I was finished with my homework, my dad gave me a choice between my mom and a block of wood. I wanted to build my car, but each single day somehow mom came first. By the time the Pinewood Derby loomed I had done nothing on my car, still a block of wood, and there was no time to cut, sand, and paint it. Because of that I felt that I couldn't go, but my parents told me I could go to participate if I brought something, anything, so I attached wheels to my block of wood. It took five minutes. The block of wood drew stares and did about as well as my more finished cars had. I had a good time. A week later, I was surprised when my Cubmaster gave me the only good sportsmanship award he ever handed out, and I was happy. Participation can bring unexpected benefits.
In Boy Scouts when I volunteered for troop positions, I chose to do more than the minimum. I have had the privilege of being the Troop Librarian, Den Chief, and Historian. As Librarian I went beyond the minimum to sort through the library to remove all of the obsolete booklets and replace them with up-to-date ones, adding eagle required merit badge booklets, and revised the booklet checkout procedure. After I was Librarian, I became one of the extremely few in our troop who ever was a Den Chief. I worked more than I had to and earned the Den Chief Service Award. It was a very fun and easy job being a Den Chief, because the Cub Scouts did not notice when you messed up, and therefore were always happy with you. As Historian, I went beyond the minimum by writing down some of the troop's ancient history. I interviewed some of our previous Scoutmasters, and I was glad I heard their wonderful stories, which you can now enjoy on our website. I also shot, edited, and posted pictures of troop activities, with short summaries of what happened.
In summary, if I had not participated beyond the minimum, I would never have had the satisfaction of giving the library to the next Librarian in good working order, having fun being a Den Chief, and listening to the stories our previous Scoutmasters had.
In Scouting, the minimum is quite sufficient. The First Class scout is the complete scout. However, just as Mr. Long challenges the First Class Scouts to go to Eagle, if they choose, I challenge you to scout into the unknown.
-- Thomas L.
June 24, 2005
The Father's Eagle Speech
Fire in the Coal Mine
There is a fire in the coal mine.
Look at the surface. You cannot see anything to tell you that deep down, there is an unstoppable heat that slowly smolders for decades, for a lifetime. At this time it is customary to say certain things, and you do know where you are in our hearts, but I cannot, because there is a fire deep in the coal mine, and we cannot stay up here.
We must take the elevator down.
Amazingly, Tom has been working to plan. He has always had a plan. He was inspired by stories of cousin Elsie, the goddess of academic achievement, and by stories of cousin Andrew, the high school god of extracurricular activities, an accomplished musician, black belt in Karate, Eagle Scout and member of the Order of the Arrow with Vigil honors, and he wrote a pretty good symphony in three movements, in high school.
And so, one night in grade school Tom announced his plan - to do just some of the things that each of Andrew and Elsie did, and not to take it to either extreme. It seemed to be a wise choice. He specifically mentioned (1) going for Eagle, and (2) not pursuing Vigil Honors (even though he did not know what Vigil Honors were exactly) so as to go easy and allow room for other things.
Tom thought, he imagined, that he was igniting the fires of activity
achievement and academic achievement, and maybe so, but that was not the
real fire. The real fire was different, and was already quietly smoldering
deep in the coal mine. We shall distinguish between the two.
The Wrong Attitude
One activity Tom tried was chess. Tom thought that he could just waltz and do something at the US Chess Federation sanctioned tournaments at the Chappaqua Middle School, where they have an intense after school chess program taught by Chess Masters. Sure, go knock yourself out. (Show the First Place Trophy). OK Tom, pretty hot, but, …
There is a different, deeper fire, that eventually burns through to reveal who you are. And that's when it all went wrong.
Tom, you remember Anthony? At the chess tournament, Anthony was under the steamroller, Tom's attack was crushing him. And Tom felt so sorry for him that Tom was a friend to Anthony and helpful and showed him a good move that he could make, and that brightened him up, and so Tom was courteous and kind and cheerfully showed him another good move, and you know where this story is going. Anthony turned around and beat Tom. You failed. Helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, and cheerful do not work at a chess tournament.
Young man, you'll have to go someplace else where that kind of attitude is better appreciated. Someplace like, oh, I don't know, maybe here, maybe today.
So Tom failed, and I could not be more proud.
Tom, we are proud of what you do, but we are more proud of who you are.
The Man Who Fell Behind
Then, in academics, Tom continued down his trail of failure, as the man who fell behind.
Starting bigtime in the first grade, Tom became just absolutely Science crazed. And without going into details, well, Science has been in his life almost every day since.
At the beginning of the 4th grade they split the math class in two. The advanced math class would eventually go on in high school to get more interesting and advanced science courses, and science crazed Tom wanted to be there.
But Tom missed the cut. He missed it by one half of one point. And nothing could be done. Nothing. That is because the Yorktown school system, tracks math students according to the Pirates' Code from the Hollywood movie Pirates of the Caribbean, "Any man who falls behind, is left behind." The code of a Hollywood Pirate.
But, you cannot put out a coal mine fire. Such a fire slowly burns deep into the thinnest crack, down the finest line, to where the eye of the fire, dim, dull, red, and unblinking stares back at you, so deep into the wall that it cannot be touched even by a school principle with an unlimited supply of water.
So, Thomas quietly borrowed a 5th grade math book. And at the end of the summer he walked into the 5th grade knowing all of 5th grade math, and they had to promote him.
Thomas stumbled and fell hard, fell a year behind. And then, he picked himself up, as a man does, and marched hard to join back up, as a man must sometimes do.
A man in the 5th grade.
And so Thomas, we are proud of where you are, but we are more proud
of who you are.
Science as Scouting
Which brings us finally to today. Today there is a new merit badge. It's even round just like the ones on his sash, and you'll see it in a minute.
Thomas' enthusiasm for science has brought him to the Yorktown High School Science Research Program, an absolutely outstanding, advanced program run by Michael B., the human spark plug, a man who starts the fires, and detonates with each turn of the crankshaft to power the enterprise forward.
Thomas plans to start original research this summer at the Cornell Medical College in Manhattan. And in a way this is a next step in scouting, into the true and real unknown of science, under the guidance of Mr. B. and the scientists at the lab. Not teachers quite exactly, these are his new scoutmasters.
So what stage is Thomas at? Well, like a scientist applying for a research grant, Thomas' research proposal was evaluated at the White Plains Invitational science fair, (Show Trophy). Biochemistry Division: 3d Place. OK Thomas, pretty good, but, ..
There is a different, larger fire of character in the coal mine of the heart. Thomas is not doing cryptanalysis, or grid computing, or teaching songbirds songs from other species, or anything like that. No, Thomas will do cancer stem cell research. His heart is in trying perhaps to play some small part in something that may eventually be important for the health of the nation.
And so Thomas, we are really proud of all of the things that you have
accomplished, but we are more proud of the young man that you are.
Oh, perhaps I have scarcely mentioned the rank of Eagle.
Or perhaps I spoke of nothing else.
June 24, 2005
Service to Others Past Eagle, While in the Troop
Count Him Absent
Look around, and if you do not see Thomas L., count him absent. He will have gone to New Mexico to the prestigious Intel ISEF International Science Competition. He was never fully here.
Yet we cannot be so proud for him to go, and we have told Tom so. The granting of awards and honors will stretch over two days, but there is no entry in the judges’ rubric for what Thomas has done. There is nothing to win, after victory.
Dragged down into the gash in the earth in the grip of the crab, first one and then another patient has thrown forth the ultimate act of defiance. Allowing themselves no final resting place they now fight cancer from beyond the grave for no benefit to themselves to die again and again as a cell line in the suffocating confines of a science lab, if only a killer can be found. Young Thomas has taken up the sword. At the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City in his white lab coat he stands over the bits of broken remains of their bodies, the few cancerous cells that were once, and still are, them, to grant their wish.
Around us the students scratch and claw for the best grades and scores. Thomas has past this way, but his fight is elsewhere. He devised and tested a gene therapy, not to kill the cancer, but to halt or at least slow the explosive growth of AML, a 95% fatal form of leukemia. His result needs confirmation; it may fizzle as test-tube treatments often do, but so far it appears actually to work. If this cancer does come, Thomas may not and probably cannot stop it, but to reach its victims it first will have to go through him.
But where is the victory?
Those patients who refused a completely final resting place signed up their families for the same, a lifetime without closure. Sometimes these relatives call for news from Thomas's research mentor, and they must be asking if what little is left of their loved one's body still lives, why did it go mad, and can the madness be stopped. Thanks to Thomas, his mentor may have said that a step has been made. Ground has been taken and will never be yielded. The one they loved so much did not die so much in vain. Then there is the click of the telephone, for in this conversation you are not invited to speak, nor may you hear. But if you listen close upon the lightest breeze, in a minute you may almost hear the sound of distant sobbing. It is the sound of victory, of the human spirit.
Apr. 23, 2007
Photos by Paul B. and the L. Family.