Dear Camp Counselor,
I had the great pleasure of spending time with you last night at your staff meeting. It was a powerful experience – one in which we shared some of our deepest and darkest, our lightest and happiest. Thank you for sharing your time, space, and heart with me.
I’m writing to you, Camp Counselor, because you’re half way through summer and it’s hot out. I’m writing to you, Camp Counselor, to remind you why we do what we do. Sometimes, it’s easier to feel the thick caking of sweat and dirt than it is to feel the subtle, but powerful, twinkle of inspiration. That feeling, located somewhere around where we wear our logo, is the
milk and cookies high fiber granola and infused seltzer water of what we do.
Let me start with my story. I started my camp life when I was 9 years old. I remember singing the new songs I learned on the way home and falling fast asleep when I got home before I could wash off the dirt. I remember learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to swim, how to make friends, and the Repeat After Me songs I would someday teach my campers. I remember that my camp counselor thought I was so cool (I wasn’t – but she made me feel that I was). She taught me to be brave and to try new things and asked me about my favorite books. She taught me how to read maps when we took hikes. Actually, I think the hikes were my favorite part of camp because that’s when we disappeared from the normal stuff and discovered the awesomely exciting haunted histories of the rock formation we found in the woods. I told the same stories to my campers 10 years later. I still don’t know if they are real or not.
My camp counselors taught me a lot of things: new songs, how to swim, the great and many stitches of boondoggle and string bracelets, how to play four-square. I loved relay races, high ropes, hikes, and overnights. Want to know something interesting? The schedule of activities, while fun and fabulous and full of wonder and magic, ended at 4:00 pm every day. The lessons I learned, however, are still shaping my hours.
In my short life, I have learned and done and achieved some of the coolest and weirdest and bravest things. Most of those things, I didn’t learn at camp. I learned them because of camp.
I have studied five foreign languages and I’m fluent in three of them. The Flea Fly Flo song I learned at camp was my first foreign language. I learned at an early age to not be afraid of the silly sounds coming out of my mouth and to appreciate the value and beauty of learning other silly sounds. Like French.
I jumped out of an airplane. Twice. The first time I saw the world from such great heights was from a tree during ropes course at camp. My counselors looked so small from so high up. But they cheered for me and taught me to be brave and to try weird new things, no matter how scary. I now cheer on little ones to jump from the block – a great height that is weird and new and scary for them.
After high school, I ventured out into the world and lived in New York, Kansas, Utah, and France. I’ve been to England, Ireland, and Amsterdam. I got lost and I then I read a map and found my way back. The first time I got lost and read a map to find my way back was in the woods at camp. I learned that I was never really lost in the woods on our hike or on Le Boulevard de Sebastopol or Olathe, Kansas because I could read a map and the landmarks that got me there in the first place. My counselor particularly liked the Blue Trail.
I earned my lifeguard certification 12 years ago. I’ve made over 10 rescues – mostly children. I’ve trained over 200 lifeguards in three states who are now making their own rescues – mostly children. I learned to swim at camp. My camp counselor taught me to love the water and, more importantly, how to be safe. How to stay alive. I now know how to keep other people safe and how to teach them to keep their friends safe.
I have friends who speak different languages, with different skin colors, from different countries, practicing different faiths, who enjoy different things. I learned how to meet new people, learn about them, and be friends with them. How to disagree with them, how to learn from them. How to love them. I met more people at camp than I have anywhere else in my life. With the campers in my group, I learned to cooperate, compromise, help, be helped, create, and destroy. I learned the destructive and healing power of my words and actions. I learned that I could hurt people – and I did. I learned that I could heal people – and I did. I learned how to say sorry, how to forgive and be forgiven.
In my life, I’ve felt the flutters and flush of love and I’ve felt the devastating and suffocating crush of lost life. I cried so hard and struggled so long when I heard that one of our friends – a camp counselor – died from cancer. We were all camp counselors together for years. Every summer, it was as if we were the only people we knew. We learned to love each other and to trust each other at camp. When he died, we loved each other and trusted each other with this incredible hurt and incredible love.
Camp Counselor, you are incredible. Do you know that? You are teaching children weird songs and fun games and life lessons. You are teaching the children in your group how to be human and how to live in this world with other humans. The kids you spend your hazy, hot, and humid days with are going to change lives. Because you changed theirs.
This is why you do what you do. Every song you sing, every swim lesson you teach, and every dirt line you think is a tan line is just one more way that you are creating a life that is going to paint this world wonderful.
Right now, everyday, you paint this world wonderful. And that’s the greatest work you’ll ever do.
With so much love,