We were standing in the cathedral parking lot, waiting for the camp bus to arrive. The heat was rising up from the black asphalt in waves and I felt myself sink into that semi-trance state a muggy August in Georgia seemed to produce in me. It was more miserable than usual that year -- wouldn't cool down at all. Most of the other parents waited in air-conditioned SUVs, while I'd hopped out of our car, choosing to suffer the heat rather than seem unexcited to see our son again. A couple of waiting siblings wandered desultorily around the lavender-lined labyrinth nearby.
I stared in their general direction, thinking of cool green watery lake depths to plunge into no doubt, when the bus turned in the drive and chugged its way around. Some children were hanging their arms out of the old double-hung windows, waving wildly, while others looked quite miserable to be back in the arms of family. In the back through the dusty windows I noticed a mass of arms and shoulders, two heads lip-locked, while surrounding them were an enthusiastic crowd. I later learned this generation had added stopwatches for this latest attempt at the non-stop kiss all the way home from camp. We'd had this couple too when I'd gone to camp many years before.
No sign of our child.
We gathered around as grinning, crying, stone-faced, and tired campers began to disembark, the rough transition back to 'real life' evident on their faces as they watched comrades, best friends --- kids bonded beyond all titles --- being embraced by strangers called family.
I remembered that feeling of disorientation well, for I too had gone to this particular camp as a child, experienced it's incredible gift for taking a disparate group of kids from all around, and within a few short days, almost one week, creating a whole. One. It wasn't just me either --- every person I've known who has attended any of the one week camps this place offered, has had a similar experience --- those in their sixties now, down to the young faces we saw streaming past us this day. How did this place do this? How did a bunch of middle-school-aged strangers all head off to the North Georgia hills for six days and return, not only happy and united, but as better people? Where kids return home aware of not only their own responsibility, but of their power to make this world a better place?
My eyes searched through the moving torsos visible within the old-fashioned rounded bus, looking for that lean, slight familiar frame. We waited. The stragglers in the back of the bus lingered, gathered bags, cases, books --no technology allowed-- and reluctantly, finally, moved slowly forward while the line in front stepped down into city life. Most of those kids' legs looked like they'd crawled through a red-clay jungle infested with mosquitoes, chiggers, no-see-ums.....and if my memory served me, they probably had.
During my times at camp, the routine was similar. We had put on skits, hiked up mountains, sang a lot of songs...yes, Kum Ba Yah too. We had arts and crafts sessions, we swam, we had bonfire night down in the woods with old Cherokee and Creek tales. We went to chapel. Not a dogmatic chapel, but an inquiring chapel, where we were asked the tough questions about Life, and how would we handle them. Not one Saviour conversation that I recall. We had progressive Themes.
I found myself drifting back in time, to other boiling Augusts, to all of those camp themes: one year we were taught TM -- Transcendental Meditation. Another year, Transactional Analysis: learning how to communicate effectively using healthy inner states -- 'adult' based versus the less healthy 'parent' or 'child' interactions. I only remember realizing I was much more likely to get what I wanted if I'd just talk to my mother without whining. We spent the mornings in these seminars and in the afternoon we all went forth with this new knowledge and tried it out on each other while joining in on other camp games, sometimes not so usual camp games....
One afternoon we were all called to the commons, told bathing suits must be worn. We campers arrived to see all of the counselors standing in a semi-circle, grins on their faces, buckets of tempura paints at their feet in all colors. A small chat about personal space ensued, how when we come with good intentions and love in our hearts, we may not mind a person moving in closer.
"So now we will all be body-painting each other! You may only say positive things with your painting, only paint beauty!"
What!? This was excruciating for us shy ones at first, until a brush full of cool paint slid across an arm, a belly....then giggles ensued. A whole afternoon disappeared this way-- I can still feel the drying, cracking paint on my skin. I finally had an excuse to walk up to that cute boy named James while holding my dripping yellow paintbrush, and I've never been quite as shy since that day, a blessing indeed.
Another sort of theme was 'tribbles' from a Star Trek episode -- our camp turned that particular episode into a commentary on kindness and how the Star Trek crew reacted so positively when the warm, non-threatening tribble creatures arrived on board. In the wisdom of our elders, 'tribbles' became 'warm fuzzies', which became 'hugs', and we all spent that week offering warm fuzzies, i.e. hugs, to each other--- they had to be offered and accepted before you could zoom in. All I remember was permission to give a warm fuzzie to.....James! Out in the open! While kindly adults smiled. Nothing shameful, nothing sordid.
Yes, we were remarkably innocent in those days, but even more, there was an atmosphere consciously created around us of Love: the Greek 'Agape', the Hebrew 'Ahev', more than desirous 'Eros', which was running rampant enough among us thirteen year olds as it was. In this camp's wisdom, a larger picture of a healthy and loving path through this world was given to us while in our ignorance and glee we absorbed it all like a sponge, not realizing at all how our minds and hearts were being shaped.
My meandering mind shifted back to the present, wondering while waiting what this week had had in store for this group. Who had become friends with my son? What had he learned? Had he had fun?
Finally, the very last little straggler, so straggly and reluctant I felt eyes on us a little bit, came shuffling off the bus in the form of our Middle Son. Barefoot. Not wearing either of the two new pairs of shoes we'd sent him off to camp with, not the two older pairs either, not the water sandals, not the flip-flops. Again.
"This child would lose his head if his neck weren't firmly attached," as our old neighbor had said many a time.
Irritation warred with gladness to see our boy again. Those shoes were not cheap -- we had a tight budget, we were lucky to get the darned kid to camp at all. Gladness won out of course, big hugs went all around, cases were tucked in the back with the kids, and we were all settled in front of the blasting A/C as we turned onto the highway headed for the lake, before I ventured a question.
"So, what in the world happened to your shoes? Did you lose ALL of them?"
"No...I don't want you to be mad, I know it's a lot of money....but I ..."
"Do you have any of your shoes left in your suitcase?" I ask as I was mentally wondering which bill would have to wait until another paycheck so we could put something on this boy's feet...it was blistering out there after all.
"Well....," I ventured as I tried to recall each and every healthy method of communication.
It suddenly all came out in a rush, "I gave them away! This boy needed them way more than me, you should've seen all the holes, he only had one pair....and his brother only had flip-flops and those broke on the second day and he was crying in his pillow that night when he thought we were all asleep and they have my size feet, well almost, but the one pair almost fit and the others all fit! I just had to, Mom...."
I gave him my nicest smile. I did my best to make sure Agape/ Ahev/Love was pouring out of my eyes and heart, sending it's warm caress all over that son of mine. Tears came to my eyes as I turned back around. My husband just stared ahead and kept driving, a bit in shock I thought, a lovely grin stealing its way across his face.
This camp had done it again.
JULY 9, 2010 3:59PM