I first took note of Norman when the camp leaders took us all on a hike to Lebret. He was a quiet boy, walking with us, yet alone. He seemed like the rest of us, except that he could not hold his head up straight. It tilted towards his right shoulder, almost resting on the shoulder. Some of the other boys called him Leadhead.
We were at the Anglican Church summer camp on the south shore of Mission Lake between Fort Qu’Appelle and Lebret, in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley of Saskatchewan. We slept in bunk houses, spent our days learning Pilgrim’s Progress, swimming in the lake and hiking through the hills; in the evenings we all gathered around a campfire for singing and stories and an evening prayer.
At first, I didn’t like to hear the other boys making fun of Norman and calling him Leadhead. However, by the third day my conscience had been dulled and I began to call him that myself.
The morning of the fourth day, I woke up with pain in my neck and shoulder. The pain became excruciating if I tried to straighten my head — overnight, I had become Leadhead II! I went through that day with my head in the same position as Norman’s and got the same unkind remarks from the other boys. Late in the day my muscles began to loosen up and the next morning I could hold my head up with no discomfort.
One would think that such a dramatic lesson in the Golden Rule would be unforgettable. I have found that there is a difference between remembering the lesson and learning the lesson.
Forty years later, I was a quality assurance inspector in an automotive parts plant. One day, while making my rounds, I heard that a lady working on car door weatherstrips in another part of the plant had cut some of them too short. I knew Sandy, she had been in our home, her mother lived a few doors away from us in a small village. I walked over to where several others had gathered and were making jovial, but unkind, remarks about her workmanship. For some reason, I felt compelled to join in and made a smart alecky remark. Sandy looked at me and quietly said, “Oh no, not you too!”
Sandy knew about the faith that I professed, she had expected something better form me, and I had let her down. I believe she had a right to expect better from someone who professed to be a follower of the one who said, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
Have I now learned the lesson? I’m afraid that I can’t claim that my attitude and conduct toward others has been faultless since that time. Yet, those painful memories have taught me that I am a very fallible human being and I believe it has made me kinder to others than I otherwise would have been.
This was first posted more than three years ago and it has been on my mind again of late. So here it is again. Norman was not the real name of the boy at summer camp. After sixty years, it probably wouldn’t matter if I used his real name, but I have long ago forgotten the names of all the other boys at that camp.