When we talk about moments of glory at camp, we tend to talk about the big, boisterous accomplishments. Even today, campers climbed to the top of the climbing tower, summited mountains, swam to strawberry point, hit a bulls eye in archery, and biked over camp hill, etc. These are accolade worthy moments, impressive, supreme, but they aren’t necessarily the most impactful moments of a camper’s experience.
The reason we talk about these big, photo worthy moments is that they are easier to share in a few words. We who have driven over camp hill can imagine what it must feel like to jump triumphantly off a bike having climbed that steep slope. But most of camp is not these moments. Most of camp is a regular, camp kind of day, like today.
Today started with Go-Getters. I decided to play Bronboll, which is a Scandinavian version of baseball that has caught on here. Some campers joined the game eagerly, others seemed skeptical: “I don’t know how to play,” one said. “we’ll teach you,” we assured her, and we did.
The game can become quite competitive, especially as young and hyper-athletic campers test their chops alongside teammates who may not have the same enthusiasm or skill level. It’s 8:00 am and we’re all just practicing how to live and play as a community, so young campers can be forgiven when they shuffle away from the Bronball diamond without shaking hands at the end of the game.
This morning though, I saw campers passing the ball in a coordinated effort. I saw them call themselves out with honesty when they erred. They played like a team and at the end of the game everyone gathered for a group high five. The score was close and a brother and sister (who had played on opposite teams during the game) walked away arm-in-arm towards flag raising together. All of this before breakfast.
This afternoon, one camper told me that the best thing she did today was go to water aerobics with Annie (her counselor) and Beth (a waterfront staff member). They jumped about and danced in the water and had a great time. She told me she liked it because it was silly and it didn’t matter if she knew what she was doing.
It was just a normal day at camp. We’re just practicing how to be humans of kindness and decency and enthusiasm. I’m not sure exactly what your camper did. If they are a Pioneer or Trailblazer, I know they brought themselves from one activity to the next and then they made it to 50s dinner dressed in a poodle skirt or jeans and a white t-shirt.
50s dinner did give the evening a special twist to it. We listened to Elvis and the soundtrack of Grease while we dined. Some campers and staff got into the hand jive and almost everyone in the eating lodge joined a giant conga line that snaked about the tables until it was time to return to our seats and eat our root beer floats. It was a great time!
I asked a camper at my table what decade he would want to live in if he could live in any decade. His response? The 90s! I had not expected that answer; hadn’t we lived in the 90s, I thought. But of course, the camper hadn’t. We chatted a bit about the 90s—the dawn of modern technology, as he saw it—over our root beer floats.
Camp in the 90s had many of the same features. We had 50s dinner, Go-Getters, various interest groups and physical challenges. But the thing I remember most about my experience as a camper is a hug my Adventurer leader gave me. She had spent the session talking to me like my thoughts and ideas mattered. She had teased me a bit about my shortcomings and quirks, but in a way that made me feel safe still.
When she hugged me, I felt that it was a hug she gave because she cared about me, not for any other reason than simply because I was who I was. I have always been lucky to have adults in my life who have cared for me, my parents and teachers for instance. But in this hug I felt that I was intrinsically valuable, not for any connection I had, but just for being me. It was a very powerful thing for a 14 year old to walk away with from a hug.
Those tiny gems are happening here, even in this decade, the 21st century, in what my 50s dinner friend might call the late afternoon glow of modern technology. Even on a regular day at camp. They build so slowly and happen so quietly; it is hard to know how to convey these small moments to you, the ones on the other side of that impressively steep camp hill.
Another staff member told me of a camper who had successfully avoided swim lessons for weeks by forgetting his swimsuit or feeling nauseous, etc. Then, during this camper’s village time at the waterfront, he waded in to the shallow end. It was a very hot day. He stayed waste deep in the water through free time, and at one point was the only camper in the water. The lifeguard on duty saw the moment for what it was and started chatting with the camper. A little bit of encouragement and coaxing brought the camper to a successful float, and then to his face submerged in water, and then to a slap happy crawl, until finally he was pointing his elbows high and elegantly free styling about the shallow end. “See!” said the lifeguard, “you’re swimming!” and no one was more surprised about this accomplishment than the newly minted swimmer himself.