Wow it’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything. Self-reflection is a big part of getting the most out of experiences for me, so it feels good to be writing this right now! This summer was, in a word, crazy. So much happened around and in me that it was nothing short of a whirlwind. I spent the season as the Ropes Course Director at Camp Becket in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, an all-boys camp founded in 1903 and still going strong. Summer camp positions are very intense, requiring a lot of you emotionally and physicaly. Breakfast is at 8:15, morning cabin activities start at 9:30, followed by an hour of free time (class setup for us at the ropes course usually), lunch at noon, then three afternoon classes, an hour of free time (class takedown), dinner, evening cabin activities, and cabin chat at the end of the day. And guess what? The next day you get up and do it all over again, and then again for 8 weeks! It is an absolute sprint.
I would compare being at Camp Becket this summer to a cultural immersion experience. Nearly all camps have their own culture and Becket is no exception. From day one I entered a world that some of my fellow staff members literally grew up in. Becket was a key part of their formative childhood years. The result? Expectations and traditions galore. There’s classic games that everyone expects to play. There’s camp specific terms and phrases that everyone uses. Groups of people have shared events and memories, giving them a bond that is so strong it lasts decades. There’s even a Becket sense of humor (I’m not kidding). Entering this culture was fun and a challenge all at once. The first couple weeks I spent adjusting and trying to figure out how things worked. I noticed, though, that as the summer went on I started focusing less on where I was supposed to be at what time and more on the people around me. I was able to be more like myself once I got my bearings and, in some way, join the Becket community.
The last day of camp came quicker than I could have imagined. The summer days were so packed that they moved by at a speed I have never experienced. Literally this was the fastest summer of my life! But it was so good. It was really different from any summer I’ve had before for a few reasons. I’ve never worked as a program staff, stayed on camp for a whole summer season, or been an official supervisor before. All this combined for a very memorable three months, teaching me some things I think worth mentioning.
The Value of Relationship – The two sessions of camp were two different tales. I felt myself in a sort of funk for the first few weeks. I’d wake up in the morning without a sense of forward movement or excitement about the day ahead. I haven’t spent much of my life in that sort of place, feeling a certain way but not knowing why. I think we all yearn for internal energy, that spring in our step in the morning when we start our day. It wasn’t there like it usually is for me and I was asking myself, “Why?” The week before Session 2 came and my program director asked me, “What would you think of living in a cabin next session?” I thought on it for a bit, unsure: moving from my staff housing into a cabin with 2 counselors and 9 campers would require more of my energy, potentially making it hard to finish the summer strong. On the other hand, it could be just what I needed. I decided to go for it and really get in the middle of camp life. Opening Day of Session 2 my camp experience changed drastically, starting with moving to the top bunk in an old cabin with no electricity and 11 cabin mates. As unglamorous as that might sound to some, it got me out of the “funk” and back on track with why I was at camp. Spending time with Cabin Yosemite and being more intimately involved with the village gave me more purpose and connection to the place and program I was a part of. I finally felt like I was “at camp” and not just working there.
What does being “at camp” mean? It means you’re surrounded by people in a place you all share and you have countless opportunities to grown in relationship with them while doing some pretty great activities. Over the session I rediscovered how much relationship means to me. By being more involved with a specific group my heart was set back on track. It was an unforgettable experience that the reason for it all is the people. Climbing ropes courses and paddling canoes is all well and good, but the true reason we are all here is to form lasting relationships as friends and mentors and to give others healthy, positive, life-giving experiences. Without that strong tie to the people around me I struggled to stay full of spirit and heart. For me, if something isn’t relationship based, it probably won’t last. Now that I have such a specific, real-world experience in this truth I can’t deny it. I don’t think the Lord will let me forget it either.
Have Some Fun – Camp Becket does an all camp event called Walkabout Day where counsellors take their cabins out into the woods and explore the area for a day. The Program Staff create a theme for the day and I was on the planning committee. After much discussion we decided on the greatest theme possible: The Lord of the Rings! For the day we hid magical items and had staff dress up as characters from the trilogy throughout the woods, giving the cabins something extra to do while they tromped through the forest. I had the honor of being Gandalf (the red) for the day, so my job description for the day was to be a wizard, wander through the woods, and play a mini-game with any group I saw. It was one of the best days of my life!
As I returned to main camp I had some time to myself on the trails. I sat and leaned against a tree, wrote some in my journal, fought off a band of orcs, and sang songs only myself and the woodland creatures will ever know. And then it hit me: it had been so long since I had done something like this that I had forgotten what it felt like. Over the last year professional growth has become a focus for me and I’ve developed a lot as a result. But in the act of being a wizard I realized that I had given the professional side of my life a little too much focus. There is a point where one needs to take a break from the serious, analytical perspective of life and just have some fun. I found my thoughts cycling through situations from previous months and considering when I could have lightened up a bit and enjoyed the ride a bit more; there were more than I like to admit. So here’s the message: don’t forget to have fun, play, and make time to drop your agenda and follow the spontaneous, ridiculous side of life. Pick an activity that doesn’t require planning, is nothing but fun, has nothing to do with your professional life, and to go do it for an afternoon. For me that looks like putting on a costume of my favorite Lord of the Rings character and running around in the woods, building LEGOS, or jumping in a lake. What would that afternoon look like for you? You’ll be glad you did it and you’ll return to other tasks with a bigger smile and a fresher heart. That’s worth it y’all.
There are other things I learned and realized this summer, but these are the ones I want to mention here. Want to hear more about the past few months for me? Give me a shout! I would love to hear about your summer as well. The calendar says it’s officially fall, so it’s time to look ahead now. But, as always, it’s our past experiences that illuminate how to navigate our future. Take time and ask yourself what you learned this past season. Experience, learn, grow, and carry on. That’s life folks. Live it up!
All photos except for the sunset one above were taken by Caroline McQuistin, the camp photographer. Check out more of her fantastic work at carolinemcquistin.com. Seriously, visit her site! Her photos are incredible.