Crumbling Under the Weight of a Whisper

What are you watching Daddy?

-It’s a memorial service for something that happened 15 years ago.

I knew he wouldn’t know what a memorial service was, but I was put on the spot and hadn’t yet worked out my answer to the question yet so I let it hang there.

The service was the now familiar reciting of names. The seemingly endless recitation of the dead that occurs every year where the towers stood. I’ve tried to listen or watch in the past, but couldn’t always make it. This year it fell on a Sunday and I had some coffee and wanted to stir the emotions that didn’t come as early as they used to. That still hadn’t really arrived until I put on the service.

As in past years two relatives or friends will recite a section of the seemingly endless scroll of names, alternating turns alphabetically until arriving at their final destination. The name of their loved one who is now gone, frozen in time, never growing older. Each year the pictures of them getting more dated as time continues to creep forward without them. When they get to their own loved one they say something to honor them, something to remember them, something to put out in the world some of the pain they carry the rest of the time. They give it out now so that others may burden some of the pain. If not for them, then at least with them. It never fails to stir me. Never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

In the past my emotion would arrive earlier. It would loom large on the horizon for days just waiting their stoic, unmoved  by and unaware of my concerns. This year I had yet to confront my emotions around the whole thing. It was my head that lead my heart this year.

-Why are you sad, Daddy?

-Well, something very sad happened 15 years ago. Some very big buildings fell down. I had a friend who was in one of them and when I hear about the people that were in the buildings it reminds me how sad that day was. It was very very sad.

-Did your friend die?

-Yes, he did. A lot of people did. Thousands of people died that day. 

-I’m sorry your friend died daddy. 

-That’s very sweet Charlie. Thank you. He was a very nice man and it is very very sad that he died. I’m sad.

I shattered into a million tiny pieces.

I’m not used to this. It’s completely foreign to me, in fact. These tiny little people are not so tiny anymore and while there has been love and pain and joy and pride and so many threads that bound us together since the beginning, this is new. This compassion and concern emanating from him. This expression of love and thoughtfulness, this true recognition of such a sorrowful moment and his wish to comfort me felt overpowering but it wasn’t. It was tender and gentle and disarming. I shattered not because the weight of the moment. No. It was the complete removal of defenses that his loving words brought me that turned me to thin glass that crumbled under the weight of a whisper.

-I could draw a picture of him!

He is five and I love love love his pictures.

-That would be amazing, Charlie. Would you like to see a picture of him.

-Yeah.

So I searched for Darryl L. McKinney and there he was, the same tight, zoomed black and white tight shot, his head turning. The same action shot on the court in his college uniform, the picture of athleticism and youthful energy. The shots I see every year at this time. The one’s I’ll always have. The ones that will sadly never change.

-Daddy, how do you spell Darryl?

I spelled it out for him from the couch where they were up to the ‘L’ names.

-How do you spell love?

It was all their now. All I wanted was that one minute. I hoped it would be a family member of Darryl’s up there, telling of his life and saying some kind words past tears. I hoped I’d be able to see something of him in that face. It wasn’t t be however. I think they mispronounced his middle name. Only slightly.

-Daddy. Do you like it? That’s him and that’s you.

I love it. I love it so much.

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.