Returning to camp to see old familiar faces juxtaposed with many new ones has me in a state of wonder and reflection about myself and the role camp has played in my life over the years.
When I was a junior, I wrote my parents a letter every day, asking them to take me home. I was too afraid to take the short walk to the college in the middle of the night to use the toilet so I had a regular spot outside my cabin where I popped a squat in the middle of the night with panic coursing through my veins that I would get caught. Would a reasonably prudent person do that? Likely not…
When I was a middler, every moment of each day was spent on the basketball court, silently battling IBS in the college or in a panic-ridden state of insecurity about what others thought of me.
When I was a senior, my soul was battling a longing for the past, gratitude for the present, and fear of the future.
When I was a CIT I was ready to prove myself and show people that I could be who they wanted me to be. I craved acceptance and approval and in doing so lost myself in the excitement and drama of it all.
When I was a LIT I adored my co and she showed me that she trusted me. With her encouragement, I started to see what I was capable of and trust myself. I also waited in line at the payphone with my calling card hoping that when I dialed my friend’s home phone numbers they would answer. I felt homesick for a simpler life, knowing that, if I had never come to camp as a counselor, my summer would have been easier. Wondering…what if my summer had been easier?
When I was a junior counselor, I faced challenges with my campers that I couldn’t have imagined I could navigate, but I did. And, then, that was enough for me. I was done with camp. I was tired of carrying the weight of responsibility.
As time passed, and the memories of the challenges faded the pull of camp returned…I got accepted as a West Coast CIT director…the best job in the world (with the exception of a fellow trip leader who insisted on falling asleep with his legs splayed open while he rubbed the bottom of his feet together), I got to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country and be a part of the experience and evolution of others.
If I could go back in time to give little Lauren advice….I wouldn’t. She needed to face her life as it came at her. Advice would have been ignored anyhow, and warnings would have just taught her avoidance.
But in the spirit of wonder and reflection here’s what I learned as a:
Junior – Your parents aren’t there to rescue you, their role is to show you what you are capable of, not to do it for you or to save you from discomfort. If you can recognize this, you might be able to appreciate your parents in a different light.
Middler – There’s more to life than basketball (though you will be voted captain your senior year). You have the chance to try horseback riding, and though you tried it that one time and the horse ran away with you on it, get over it. Holding on to your fears is just an excuse to avoid really experiencing life.
Senior – You don’t have to fear the future. As always, things will be good, bad, pretty, ugly, scary, fun, and wild, your emotions will span the whole mood meter. But all of that is going to happen no matter what. You can fear it, or embrace it. It’s the not knowing that makes life worth living.
CIT – You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Figure out who you are and be that, unapologetically. Anything else is an exhausting waste of time.
LIT – Easier isn’t better. It’s just a different path with different results. You can choose to take life easy sometimes, you can choose to challenge yourself sometimes. You can choose to cry because your emotions were so big they came out of your eyes. You can choose to be kind or unkind. You can choose to be welcoming or alienating. You can spin any struggle into a funny story. Whatever it is that you choose, choose wisely, it will come back at you.
Junior Counselor – You can handle whatever comes your way, not because you’re special, but because you have no other choice but to handle it. And when you are faced with no other choice, there is no other choice. And that’s okay. Life works out anyhow.
CIT Director – Being a part of someone else’s journey is what gives your life meaning. If you get to explore Zion, the Channel Islands and the Grand Canyon along the way, you better thank your lucky stars. But it’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give. Don’t give so much of yourself that you lose yourself, love and care for yourself so deeply that you can give to others freely, without want or need. That is freedom.
I am who I am because of camp. Camp and the people I’ve met through it have found their way in and out of my life. I loved many of them, liked most of them, and found just a few challenging (but I learned the most from those who challenge me). And I’m better off for all of it.
I often wonder what my life in another universe is like, if I never went to camp; if I never left camp, if I didn’t have a lactose intolerance at ice cream socials, if I had gotten over my fear of horses. But the wondering about what life could have been takes away from recognizing what my life is, right now; here I am, at camp. While so much is different, nothing has changed. I’m still in one of the most beautiful places in the world with people that continue to inspire me, shape me, and accept me. And regardless of what is happening to me, in another universe, I’m grateful to be in this one.