It is something about the way the wind rustles through the leaves of a familiar tree that stirs my memories. Sometimes it is a particular song I hear on the radio or simply the voices of children laughing and singing in the neighborhood. It can be the smallest of things and almost everything this time of year, reminds me of my summer camp.
I close my eyes. I am immediately back. There is no effort on my part to remember. My memories of camp are clear as day. I can’t think of many places, experiences in my life that have this power to pull me back.
There have been many articles about the benefits of summer camp. Some people, unfamiliar with the experience, think it is strange that parents would send their children away. I went to camp because my mother went to camp and it was an experience she cherished and wanted to share with her children. She would tell us story after story. They called her “Cricket”, she loved “Color War” and she dated a guy who became a famous author. I couldn’t wait to go.
Camp was a gift I was given that enriched my life in ways unlike other experiences.
A place of growth and self-discovery. A place of firsts. My first kiss. The first time I shaved my legs, crimped my hair, wrote a song, performed in a musical, traveled out of the country. A comfortable environment where I could let loose, overcome my fears and try new things and truly be myself in a “no judgement” zone. I was encouraged to come out of my shell. People believed in me and I began to believe in myself.
When we hear the words “summer camp” we often think about outdoor activities and learning new skills such as sailing, swimming, archery and arts and crafts. All part of the experience but for me camp was about much more. It was about building relationships, life long friendships, learning how to set goals for myself and developing a sense of independence.
Summer camp taught me about life. I learned the world was bigger than myself and began to appreciate different points of view and learn about cultures unlike my own. I developed a sense of social responsibility and most importantly, tolerance. Living in a cabin for a summer with a group of unique individuals who were often very different from me was life changing.
The camp was filled with campers and staff from diverse backgrounds. Different financial situations, religions, races and nationalities were represented and opened my mind to things I may not have been accustomed to. My world became even bigger when I participated in several cultural exchange programs giving me the opportunity to live in a new country and experience a different culture, like a local.
Though I am no longer a child or young adult, I think about and miss those days. The lessons learned seem even more impactful today as I live in a modern world filled with judgement, intolerance for views that may differ from one’s own and increasing divisiveness that seems to pervade our world. Camp was magical in many ways. The real world can be tough.
The camp tradition has stayed in the family. I was able to watch my own children, through a new set of eyes, benefit from the camp experience. I remember feedback from my son’s counselor one summer. He described him as outgoing, a strong leader and was proud he overcame one of his biggest fears; jumping in the freezing cold lake (a fear I also shared with him). I was blown away and asked him if we were talking about the same kid. The counselor’s feedback was completely different from what we had heard from teachers at school. Both of my sons transformed, summer after summer, gaining more and more confidence to bring their new self into the real world, when returning home.
The tradition continues with nieces and nephews now immersing themselves in the experience. Today there is so much pressure on kids with social media in particular. An opportunity to disconnect completely (no cell phones, computers, electronics) is more important today than ever before. I fear we have lost our ability to focus on the beauty around us… without a cellphone in hand… ready to record our every move.. to post immediately on Instagram.
I loved reflecting on life in the chapel overlooking the lake. Staring into the flames of the campfire. Walking on the dirt road, kicking rocks and thinking about life. We have so much noise in our lives today. I miss the quiet and the chance to re-charge and re-invent.
Camp was my home away from home. Friendships have endured through the years. We are all connected in a special and powerful way. The years have passed quickly. My children now have their memories and have moved on. This week camp starts all over again for a younger generation and I will still yearn for those days. I don’t think that will ever change.