Emily Kelley – Cabin Counselor – Vespers

Hello GK, my name is Emily and I have vespers tonight.

Today I want to tell you about some of my favorite places in the world. This past fall I started at a new college. I was an absolute nervous wreck, although I did not like to show it. I was scared I was going to fail, scared I wouldn’t make friends, scared that I would get homesick, scared that I had made the wrong choice when picking a school. All completely normal fears to have, but unlike anything I had ever experienced before. As I entered my first semester at this tiny little school right on the ocean I took on mission. I wanted to find some safe spaces around campus. On college tours, they don’t typically show you the secret gems around campus, the comfy trees to sit under or the good places to go for a swim, or the shortcuts to different buildings. They usually make that something you have to figure out on your own.

At home I had some very special safe spaces as I like to call them. Places that I felt I could completely unwind my brain, places I could blast my music and feel like nobody else could hear it, places I could cry when I needed to, and places that I could smile so big I looked a little stupid. There was a pond near my house growing up. It was within walking distance and I grew up going there every night with my mom to walk my dog. I rode my bike through the park surrounding it, we took our christmas photos there but it was not until around covid time that I started to fall in love with this place. I went there every single night to watch the sunset starting during quarantine, and the habit never really stopped. It became a safe space for me. When I was going through tougher moments, heartbreak or feelings of anxiousness I would be there. I actually went there the night that I found out camp was not happening the summer of 2020. I instantly felt better the moment I sat on the patch of puffy grass under these two big oak trees and watched the sun go down. This place was mine. Nobody could disturb me and it was my place that I could feel all of my big feelings, happy or sad.

So as I was starting my first semester, I wandered around campus searching for some spots that gave me similar feelings of security the way that tiny little pond in my small town made me feel. There are these two sections of trees on one of the main lawns of my campus. There are bright Christmas lights strung between the trees that turn on automatically when the sun sets. There are hammocks and swinging chairs nestled under the branches. Although this was one of the most central spots at my school, those trees served as a gate. Nobody could come near me unless I wanted them to. After watching the sunset (a habit that I still hold no matter where I am) I made it a habit to read in one of those hammocks. Under the lights, just me, a place that I could escape from my not-so-great roommate situation. Escape from the stress of my classes, escape from the homesickness that I was pretending I couldn’t feel. I value alone time very strongly. I believe you can not truly have peace of mind when you are constantly surrounded by noise and business.

I am sure some of you in this circle have watched the show gilmore girls, well it is my all time favorite show, come talk to me about it, anyway there is this one episode where the main character rory is at college having a similar struggle that I have been talking about, she needs to find a place to study but every place is either to crowded or too loud until she found a tree, aplace where her back fit perfectly and it was calm and not too quiet by not too loud. And she called it her study tree, and that is what I wanted. On one of the lawns behind the academic buildings on my campus they plant long rows of daffodils and there are some big oak and maple trees behind that field at the top of a hill that looks out over the ocean. One day in the fall I was adventuring the capus and trying to find my very own study tree where I could people watch and make a friendship bracelet and I sat down against the biggest oak tree infront of that field and I immediately texted my friends to tell them that this was my new favorite place. i joked with my best friend from highschool that I had my very own emily tree. I went here whenever it was sunny with a good book, or a friendship bracelet, sometimes i brought my homework, or just a pair of headphones and it was perfect. I was the perfect distance away from the cliff walk path that people couldnt really notice me but I could see them.

Finding these spots around my campus and my hometown have taught me way that I can learn to be alone in my thoughts without out feeling lonely. I have learned how to enjoy my own company in nature and better, healthier ways to clear my mind. As i was talking to one of my best friends about this she reminded me that “Being alone can make you feel and feeling is scary. But feeling is normal and feeling is healthy, Find your safe space within yourself and in physical locations and your feelings will flow.”

So gk, I will leave you with this. Whenever you find yourself in a new place, a nervous experience, or just feeling some big feelings, try to find a space that’s yours. I challenge you to start today. Wander a little bit during free time and see if you can find a spot of camp that you can make your own. A spot that you go to find a little bit of peace from our hectic days here. Personally I have tons of safe spaces on camp, the boathouse, staff lodge porch, and this vespers ring right here to name a few. I urge you to search for a space that feels safe to you. A space where you can blast your music, a space where you can cry, a space where you can stupidly smile from ear to ear, a space where you can feel alone in a comfortable way. Go there day after day and make it a habit for yourself to find peace. I like to start by finding some big trees, it will always leave you feeling just a little bit more grounded.