When I was twelve years old I joined the Boy Scouts and that’s when I learned about lying and just how difficult it was going to be for me to be a Mexican zombie AND a Boy Scout.
One day when I was walking home from school, by myself as usual, I saw an middle-aged man sweeping outside the front of the Presbyterian Church on Griffin Avenue. He noticed me passing by and shouted out.
“Hello, young man!”
Well that stopped me. First thing I thought was that perhaps my make-up had begun to fade. I checked my arm and hands and they looked fine–no white zombie pale skin. He was too far away to be able to sniff my death smell even if the deodorant I was wearing wasn’t doing the job. What did he want?
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“Are you interested in becoming a Boy Scout?”
“Boy Scout?” I asked.
Truth to tell, this was the first time I had even heard of the scouts and really didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Sure,” he said, “The Boy Scouts of America!” He pointed to the glass case in front of the church where each week’s sermons were posted. This time the announcement was “New Boy Scout Troop forming now!”
Well, the next week I attended my first Boy Scout meeting. The Scoutmaster was the same man who had called out to me, Mr. Brown. Turns out he was also the minister at the church ( that’s where we held our meetings) and was originally from England. He spoke with a funny accent.
Anyway, Mr. Brown had recruited about a dozen of us Mexican kids in Lincoln Heights to form Troop 22. I liked all the kids in the troop except for Danny Betances, the tough kid from my seventh grade homeroom. Yeah, even Danny Betances had signed up–surprised me he was even interested. Anyway, that first meeting Mr. Brown told us all about how Lord Baden-Powell, another guy from England, had started the scout movement a lot of years ago and then how it had spread to the United States. Mr. Brown had a real good sense of humor and was always making jokes. He explained to us all about merit badges and how we would be going out on camping trips. And THAT really interested me.
Camping! I had never been out in the woods and had always dreamed of hiking and playing in a real river, not like the Los Angeles river that bordered Lincoln Heights–that was just a cement slab with a trickle of water running through it. I went there sometimes looking for dead cats to nibble on.
That first night, Mr. Brown had us memorize the scout oath about always doing your best, and helping other people at all times, and keeping yourself “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
“Being physically strong,” Mr. Brown explained, “means taking care of your body and eating right. Staying mentally awake means learning all you can, being curious, asking questions! And being morally straight,” he continued, “means living your life with honesty, clean in speech and actions and being a person of strong character.”
Well, I’d have no problem keeping myself physically strong–I ate well, even though my diet was a bit different from what most kids ate. And I was naturally curious and really interested in learning new things. But I wanted to know about have a strong character. So I asked Mr. Brown about this.
“It’s simple,” he said. “You must not think bad thoughts, and you must not lie–either by commission or omission.”
“What does that mean?” I wanted to know.
“Well, Lazaro, “ he explained, “There are two ways of lying. You can tell an outright lie. If someone asks you “Did you steal that candy bar from the store.” And you did steal it, but you say, “No, I didn’t steal that candy bar from the store,” then that’s a lie of commission. You committed the lie.”
“A lie of omission,” he went on, “is one where you don’t say anything but you lead people to believe something that isn’t so. Like if someone asks, “who stole the candy bar from the store?” And if you don’t say anything even though you know it was your friend, then that’s a lie of omission. You omitted telling the truth. By not saying that it was your friend who stole the candy bar, you omitted telling the truth. But it’s still a lie.”
And that’s where I was stumped. Of course, all my life I had kept secret the fact that I was a zombie. That I was not really a normal kid, but a dead boy walking around without a heartbeat. Heck my whole life was a lie! By not telling anyone, I was letting people believe something that was not true, that I was a normal human kid. And that definitely qualified as a lie of omission.
This bothered me for several days. I really wanted to be a Boy Scout and I had taken the Scout Oath and had promised to be morally straight. But here I was lying everyday. I was breaking the Scout Oath everyday!
The next week after our scout meeting, as all the other kids were going home, I asked Mr. Brown what would happen if when you told the truth a lot of people would get hurt? Didn’t that work against the idea of helping all people at all times? What would happen if not telling something didn’t hurt anyone?
“Ah,” he said taking his time to think. “Well, that what you call a little white lie. That’s a lie that you tell that doesn’t hurt anyone or make a whole lot of difference.”
“Have you broken the Scout Oath if you tell a white lie?” I asked.
“If no one gets hurt, and if telling a white lie allows you to help other people at all times, then I guess it’s okay. But you can’ t make a habit of lying. Lazaro, is there some white lie that you’ve told me that’s bothering you?”
I thought of what he had just said, if a white lie allows you to help other people at all times then it’s okay. I knew that if I told Mr. Brown the truth about being a zombie, I’d probably get kicked out of the troop. And then I wouldn’t be able to help other people at all times.
“No,” I replied with confidence, “ I didn’t tell no white lies. I was just curious. You know I was just being mentally awake!”
And that’s how I learned that my whole life would be just a little white lie.
Copyright 2012 Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.