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If Only I Had Known!: The Escape Clause

06/11/10 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(HOST) And now "If Only I Had Known." That's the theme we gave to commentators this spring for an annual brunch. We've been sharing some of their thoughts this week. And today we close the series with writer and storyteller Willem Lange, who says he wishes he'd discovered a few simple, but key words a lot earlier in life.

(LANGE) If only I had known about the escape clause in the Boy Scout oath!

On my honor, I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Did you catch the escape escape?  I didn’t either, till I was about sixty years old, and by then it was almost too late.

I was raised in a sober Dutch Reformed family.  Life, as they described it, was a never-ending series of decisions, right or wrong, that led to one of only two possible conclusions: Paradise or Perdition.  The trick, as I saw it, was to make a final right decision just in the nick of time; but then I learned it was impossible to know when that moment might come.

I joined the Boy Scouts at twelve, just as my conscience was developing, and learned the oath religiously.  Shortly afterward I realized I never could live up to it and get to Heaven, and marveled that others apparently could.  So I gave up on it, but never said so, because, as Huckleberry Finn says, it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.

So I went through life vaguely regretting my active imagination and many misdeeds.  Until one day about fifteen years ago, typing an article about the Boy Scouts, I came to four words I’d never noticed before: "I will do my best to do my duty..."  Oh! I thought.  I’ve never noticed them before.  They changed everything.

If only I had known that the pursuit of perfection has an escape clause!  I doubt I would have done anything differently.  But I might have regretted less what I had done, and realized many years sooner that what we will rue the most at the end of life are the things we haven’t done.  If only I had known!

Check out the "If Only I Had Known!" series page

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