After 20 Years, Summer Camp Still Breaks Me

2015-08-14 10.58.31I think camp is good for me for so many reasons.

It motivates me to do my best. It constantly confronts me with failure and insists I rise to the challenge no matter how many times I fail, and boy do I fail. It’s persistent, occupying each moment for a limited time. It makes me look at things through others eyes. My campers have extra needs for support and I’m constantly trying new approaches, tweaking attempts that end up solving only portions of problems. It makes me listen to so many voices and makes me value each one. Over time some become more reliable and others can only be relied on for misdirection. The nice thing about that is how regularly my expectations are turned upside down. By the ‘kid’ Jr. Counselor at 16 who has solutions and creativity that even he or she didn’t know was so helpful and even wise. By the parent that knows there child like no one else who comes through like the Kool-Aid man busting down brick walls to ensure we hear them, only to learn insights from people, kids, they’d never have thought to ever even consider listening to. By the teachers who choose to spend this precious free time continuing to work with the kids they love, who seem more like distant family then students in class. By the campers themselves, given a chance to have a fresh start with someone that might be able to help, might just be the right person at the right time to unlock something that campers been struggling with for some time. And by myself, surprised I was able to get up and at it once again, 20 years after heading to camp for the first time as a 21 year old with no idea I was jumping directly into my life’s work.

All of these things delight me and keep me coming back. They are the rewards so many of us continue to seek as we try to add value to the world while having an adventure and accomplishing small acts of greatness day to day. It’s always a concentrated course in self-improvement. Even this year, coming off an epic fail last year, one I didn’t think I was even capable of at this stage of the game. It was a good thing. It’s why I’m here at the office on the Saturday between sessions planning and communicating in order to avoid all the potential fails I now know, was reminded of last year, that still threaten to derail what was a largely successful first week.

Many of my friends in camp, all of them, really, are from the sleep away camp world. It’s where I’m from. I spent 19 summers working ‘away’ at camp. Moving up in the spring, commuting between the mountains and the office life in the city for the second half of that stretch, as my responsibilities grew beyond the 10 magical weeks of camp. Life now, in my little 2-week day camp, a short day at that, is not what it was, but I’m still getting what I used to from it. I love camp. I really do. What is watered down here is still meaningful and an opportunity that I’m delighted I have dived into. It’s giving me camp and I can’t tell you how great that is.

My wife will tell you, and she’d be right, that I’m really stressed by the situation. I’m a pretty laid back dude, but in the weeks leading up to camp I get tension headaches, can’t sleep and become quite unpleasant to be around outside of work. For certain folks, HR folks, it’s possible I’m even unpleasant at work at those times. But now that I’m here it’s all worth it. Because it’s good for me to have my walls breached. To be effected and to be visibly breakable. To be in need of others. To be vulnerable.

If you’ve read my work before you might think I’m a walking ball of vulnerability. You’d be dead wrong. Couldn’t be more wrong. Writing is where it appears sometimes, sure. But in real life, in the room, I’m guarded, aloof, pleasant but distant, funny as sincere and never really vulnerable. But camp breaks me. It gives me license to care too much. It makes me ask for help and it insists I take it. It makes me fragile. Being fragile is human and connective and altogether unpleasant when I’m strong enough to fear it. Thankfully camp, even this modified, watered down version of that which I used to take straight in huge gulps, makes me break.

Camp is a reset button that I need to feel the most fully realized version of me. The me that needs the world around me. The me that always exists but often hides within me.

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