Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Pinewood Derby and Wesleyan Perfection

Wesley decided to join the Cub Scouts this year.  I am an Eagle Scout.  I’m familiar with Boy Scouts and such.  But I was in Cub Scouts for a grand total of...one year.  So my experience is somewhat limited, and to be honest I wasn’t completely sure what to expect.
One of the biggest events of the Cub Scout year is the Pinewood Derby.  Each scout makes a little car out of a block of wood, and then they race them down a track.  Seems straight-forward, right?  Wrong.  This thing is hard core and high stakes.  And it’s complicated.  There almost as many prizes as there are at the Oscars.  “And the prize for best supporting derby car in a race featuring at least 3 but not more than 4 cars while running backwards and with a natural wood finish goes to…”  I know this because of the very helpful instructions sent to me by our pack’s derby chairman.  It includes details on the cars, the work weekend, the practice weekend, and the race weekend.  I read the guide.  I looked at the box in my hand containing a block of wood, three nails, and four wheels, and I started to sweat a little.  No problem, though.  I’ve got tools.  I can do this.  Breathe, Cowden, breathe.  Keep calm.  Maybe this year we can compete in the slowest car division.  Or the not a car division (I promise that’s a thing).  No problem.  I can put something together, and we can win.
Wait.  It seems the scout is supposed to make the car.  They are very clear on this point.  They feel so strongly about this that they have an entirely separate competition for dads who feel like they want to flex their derby muscles.  Visions of four-fingered scouts have led them to allow the adults to operate the power tools, but when it comes to design, hand work, and finish, it’s all up to the scouts.  Well there goes my plan to wow the judges with a fantastic Harry Potter theme.  I was so looking forward to detailing the Thestrals (easy enough for me to detail them because I can’t see them...1000 points to anyone who identifies why that is). But I digress, and I promised you a profound point.  It’s coming.
So Wesley identified what shape he wanted.  I cut it out on the bandsaw and trued it up a little bit with the belt sander.  Then I handed him the block.
“This looks great, Dad.  Doesn’t it need wheels and stuff?”
“It sure does.  But before you get to that, here’s some 100 grit sandpaper…”
I taught Wesley how to sand his car, and he did it.  He didn’t even complain when I handed him the 320 grit and told him he’d need to sand the whole car a fourth time.  I taught him how to use the spray paint.  We practiced on some scraps...and then I put the can in his hand, covered my eyes, and let him spray his car.  We’re not done just yet, but when we are, he will have done just about all of it himself.
And that’s really the point.  It doesn’t matter if he wins one of the awards or not.  He’s learning.  Practical skills like sanding and painting, sure.  But also what it means to take a project from beginning to end.  Planning.  Evaluating.  Executing.  Improvising.  Win or lose, he will have grown from the journey.
That’s so often true.  It’s not so much about the destination as the journey.  Yes, choir rehearsal is in part about making the music better.  But as much or maybe more, it’s about making us better.  Growing together.  Embracing one another.  Reminding ourselves what it means to work together for something beyond ourselves.  It’s weekly practice doing exactly what Paul taught in second Corinthians: acknowledging the contribution and gifts of each individual as we come together in the one body.
Each week we grow from the journey.  We become.  We find our better selves.  In Wesley’s (the founder of Methodism, not my son) words, we go on to perfection, even if in the end the music (or cars) we make are less-than perfect.


  1. Because apparently you haven't witnessed death and you can only see the Thestrals if you have.

  2. I'm proud of you, John. My mom never mastered the "let the kid do it" part and I hated it. And the other kids hated me. By the way, there's another post in here-how much value Wesley got not only learning the skills and confidence, but learning his dad valued him and the skills enough to spend the time with him. So many lessons and memories in "little" things.

    1. Lynn, you are so right about the second post within the first. Since he is my son, I am so aware of John's commitment to spending quality time with those he cares about. He has the patience and empathy to enable the young (or old) find their own skills, confidence or feelings. No need to ask me how I know. Just being around him gives you the answer. I am so very proud of him, and while admitting to being prejudiced, it is so very nice to see that others share my opinion and value John for the truly awesome, caring, giving person that he is.

    2. Because you sir, are no Hagrid!

  3. I see someone convened the meeting of my fan club. Thanks, guys!