essays and articles by david g allen

Finding The Strength To Endure April's Cruelty


T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land”, begins: “April is the cruelest month.” Were Mr. Eliot living today, he might criticize Americans for taking his imagery so literally. The third week of April will now be remembered for Blacksburg as well as Columbine and Oklahoma City.

While the news media has described the murders on the Virginia Tech campus as the worst such event in American history, I disagree with that assessment. No matter what else happens, nothing can be as disgusting as the murders and wounding, make that planned executions, of Amish schoolgirls in Pennsylvania last October.

Be honest. You were probably numb to the shootings on that fall day at Nickel Mines until the Virginia Tech reports recently reminded you.

In a nation gone so bizarre, one has to ask, “How can we change this behavior?”

The answer to that question might be rather simple. The killing rampages that we now accept as an everyday fact of life did not exist fifty years ago. What was it that we did then that we aren’t doing now?

This past April 19th, I attended the annual dinner of the Highland District of the Boy Scouts of America in Elkins. The district includes Barbour, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties. I estimated the dinner crowd at nearly 150 generous people.

When I arrived at the banquet, I told a friend, “I’ve returned to Mayberry.” And I meant that sincerely. I previously worked in the Elkins area and was happy to see so many old friends and acquaintances. I also used the Mayberry reference because Elkins seemed like a safe port during the stormy weather that now accompanies the third week of April.

David C. Hardesty was the guest speaker for the evening. He spoke not as President of West Virginia University, but as a former Eagle Scout. If you have been involved in scouting, then you know that somebody’s mom volunteered to be a den mother and somebody else’s dad volunteered to be a scoutmaster. Mr. Hardesty recounted this spirit of volunteerism and community involvement in his remarks.

He also related the one-hundred-year history of the Boy Scouts. The mission of scouting has always been to teach youngsters skills. Scouting also develops values such as citizenship and personal responsibility. To “be prepared” requires much more of a young boy than any other program that I can think of.

I remember when my scoutmaster taught our troop how to build telegraph keys and wire them together. That was an amazing lesson. We marveled at being able to send clicking messages from one end of Mr. Aylestock’s basement to the other. But that was not the end of the exercise. With a telegraph key in hand, we then learned Morse code.

I know that my telegraph anecdote sounds like a quaint lesson—the kind of lesson you’d expect Andy Taylor to teach his son, Opie. But Samuel Morse revolutionized communication much more than the Internet has. To have built a telegraph system and then operated it gave me a great appreciation for the history of communication in America.

The other motto of scouting is “Do a good deed daily.” Unfortunately, this generation of college students has been found by a San Diego State University study to be the most narcissistic group of its kind—ever. College professors who I know also concur with the study’s conclusion. The students, however, call their narcissism “healthy self-esteem”, and they do so in a self-congratulatory manner.

Scouting, 4-H, and similar structured youth programs used to be an integral part of Plan A when it came to raising children. We as a nation no longer use Plan A. We are much too sophisticated for that homey nonsense.

We now use Plan B, or Plan C, or whatever plan it is that barely frowns on teen pregnancy or the employment of pedophiles as schoolteachers. The new plan also permits schools to spy on students with cameras rather than engage each student personally. The new plan encourages school administrators to force-feed zombie pills to hundreds of thousands of grade school kids rather than diagnose why little Johnny suffers from anxiety in the first place.

As Dr. Phil would say: “How’s that plan working?”

The answers to America’s social problems are not hidden in a cave. Nor are they known only by the Oracle at Delphi. The answers are as obvious as the noses on our faces. When Americans finally decide to look themselves in the mirror, then they will go back to Plan A.

Until then, expect more cruel months.

David G. Allen, Clarksburg, WV


"Finding the Strength to Endure April's Cruelty" originally appeared in the May 11, 2007 issue of the West Virginia State Journal and was re-printed in the May 13, 2007 issue of the (Clarksburg) Sunday Exponent-Telegram.



Copyright 1990-2007  David G. Allen