Fragile and Brave

I have a picture of you from daycare. You are sitting quietly, legs stretched out in front of you. You are holding a board book, eyes down inspecting it. Your cheeks are so beautiful I can feel them just by looking, smooth, soft and pink with warmth. Your narrow shoulders are somewhere under the hood of your sweatshirt, a book open but ignored between your legs as you investigate this other book that has captured your curiosity. You’re wearing jeans and there are books scattered around you. You’re probably an old 2 year old in this picture, or maybe a young 3 year old. You are fully engaged, busy doing and uninterested in the person standing in front of you, probably unaware of their presence, who took the shot. I love this picture and it can make me cry.

You are the youngest and I can’t stop seeing the vulnerable in you. Sitting here with the picture and without you I can’t for the life of me imagine you look any different than that picture. Cherubic and intrigued. Tiny and determined. But you have grown. A lot. I still see the baby in you and always will. 

You still tell me about ‘tomachakes’ (stomach aches) and love ‘Sharlie’ (Charlie) and I don’t really want you to learn you are mispronouncing these things. I don’t want you to grow up. 

There are selfish reasons that mostly live in my subconscious. For one, if you’re getting older than I’m getting older. You don’t need to really know this for a good long time now, but I’m not going to be here forever and when I see you lost in discovering I want to freeze the world and stay in it forever. I didn’t have heaven until I met you and Charlie. Mommy made me come to life in a way I hadn’t, but the concept of heaven was one I rejected for lack of imagination. To be fair, who could conceive of something so wonderful and extraordinary as you. My heaven is here and now. 

Another reason I prefer you stay in this moment forever is so that I can always be what I am to you right now and you can always be what you are to me. We have challenging moments for sure, but they are fleeting. They revolve around simple challenges. This simplicity is balanced by an extraordinary frequency. You can have 5-8 crises before breakfast and without fail, whether we do so well or poorly, we get through every one.

Thirdly, I fall asleep next to you. You don’t like to fall asleep. You love to sleep, but the falling part, you are a resister. You get this from me. Each night, when I see you are tired, when we’ve been lying in bed for a long time I’ll inevitably say, ‘just close your eyes, buddy.’ Without fail, at least to this point in time it’s always met with your response of, ‘But it hurts to close my eyes.’ I could stop asking, but I just love the answer so much. You’ll start to drift and most nights you’ll pop your head up and say one last, half conscious crazy non-sequitir just before rolling over and falling asleep. Something like ‘I can’t sleep in parking lot frogs’ or ‘I look just like Fawzy.’ In case you’re wondering years from now what those things mean, well, I have no idea on the frog thing, but the ‘Fawzy’ thing is how you pronounce ‘Quazi’. He’s a character from Octonauts and your mispronunciation is adorable. I prompt it like five times a day. 

What I really don’t want to change is the you in this picture. You are a perfectly fine with the contradictory nature of life that becomes something so scary as an adult. You are exquisitely fragile and profoundly brave at the same time all the time. It’s amazing to see. Your brother was the same way, but you learn, you will learn any day now, to be self-conscious. You will wonder how other people will react before pursuing an interest. You will stop crying when mad and sometimes even try not to laugh when something is funny. You’ll toughen up and as a result you’ll be more cautious. That’s the confounding conundrum you’re going to wrestle with in the years ahead. It’s okay, you’re supposed to. But what is going on right here and now is beautiful and not be dismissed hastily. 

Being simultaneously fragile and brave has served you extremely well to now. It’s made you explore nature intuitively and voraciously. Left to your own free will you’d spend hours a day trying to find and transport every imagineable living creature from the dirt back to the house to show us. You explore whatever sparks your curiosity and you do it with abandon. You are excited when you see things you love, so excited you barely keep in your skin and you show it with squeals. They are pure joy and they are infectious to all who hear them. When you are upset, regardless of any reason or the presence of any others you let that be known too. Your emotions come out when they are felt and it’s incredibly healthy. In a sense you taught me these things. Charlie did too, but he’s teaching us other things. He’s at the tip of the spear, bringing us to new experiences all the time. He’s a boundary breaker and we can’t really enjoy as much of that process as we can with you. He’s desensitized us and you are showing us how to live an experience, not just survive it. 

I can honestly say that you’ve impacted my life more than I ever could yours. You’ve shown me the value of being unafraid. You’ve pushed me to challenge my fears to explore my world like you do yours. Thank you. 

I feel extraordinarily fragile these days. I also feel brave and curious. All these things were pushed so far down before I knew you that I often felt nothing, which was perfect for keeping invisible, but terrible for feeling alive. Living is pursuing your curiosity and finding your emotions and wrestling with all of it all the time. Living is not fearing feelings, but feeling them, saying it and processing them fully and with the help of those you love so you can put them down and not be ruled by them. Living is something you can only do if you are fragile and brave, just like you.  

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.