This past weekend, I returned to Lakeshore, the camp I’ve worked at for 16 years in some capacity up until a month ago. The occasion was a Confirmation Retreat for the conference. I would have probably waited a bit longer to go back to camp if I had not been on the planning team for this for more than a year. Though Lakeshore is probably and will always probably be the most influential place on me as a person, I did not want to be that guy that pops in every other week when he is supposed to have left. I mean that for the camp staff and for me. When you decide to leave a place, you need to make sure you do that, or you aren’t truly leaving it. If you decide to go off to college 4 hours away, you really aren’t going off if you spend every weekend back at home–you’re getting out of the house a lot. I felt the need to make a clean break to really claim whatever this new life will be, and to let Tiffany become what she is to become as the new Lakeshore Program Director. So, it seemed like more than a month would have been better for both of us, but you don’t just plan out a retreat and dump it in someone’s lap.
So, I made my return to Lakeshore to lead my first retreat as a volunteer. When I had last left, Allyson, my good friend James, and I spent the whole day packing up what was left of our furnishings and my office to bring them to our new home. I spent almost as much time figuring out how to make everything fit in the van as we did actually loading it. We did manage to get everything. While James and I loaded the van, Allyson stayed inside moving the boxes closer to the door for us and cleaning everything one last time. For lunch, we cleaned out our freezer, eating some chicken nuggets Allyson had bought for our nieces on their last visit. At one point, while I was pondering how to get the grill in the van, James went inside to find Allyson crying. Seeing the house steadily emptying had gotten to her.
It was a warm day that steadily chilled. I had hoped to leave by noon or 1pm, so we could have a late lunch and then unload. It was not to happen. As we left, the sun was heading towards the ridges in the West, as I had watched it do on so many days when I returned home from work. The clouds were beginning to turn orange and purple over the river–a view we had been spoiled on from our back porch for those five years we lived there. The last of our stuff was finally in the van, and it was time leave the house for good. I locked the door and closed it. I kissed the closed door, as I have often done when I leave a place with some sort of finality, and it was time to go. As we pulled the van and trailer slowly down Mockingbird Hill. Allyson began to tear up, and I felt my eyes welling up too. This hill had been ours for so long, and when we pulled out, it would not anymore.
I spent a lot of time over the past month wondering what going back would be like. Lakeshore has such a role in who I am, that it is hard for me to even explain to myself what all it means to me. I wondered if, the first time I set foot back on that sacred ground I would just be overwhelmed with emotion and just break down, sobbing uncontrollably. My legs might get weak, and someone would have to hold me up. I would kiss that precious ground, picking up the earth in my hands, rubbing it into my fingerprints and pores. It was not quite that dramatic, but it was powerful.
I had actually been back for a quick visit just a week before when I had to come back to Camden to clean out my safe deposit box. I saw Martha, Tiffany, Bill, and Travis. The rest of the staff was still out from a trip. It was very nice to be welcomed back. I caught up with everyone but tried not tarry very long. I knew I would be back soon.
I’ve realized now that I will likely not get emotional upon returning to this special place. It feels to me very similar to the feeling I get when I go to other favorite places. I adore Wrigley Field and Muir Woods, and when I am away, I miss them. I look up youtube videos on them and enjoy it more than anything I could watch on tv. When I travel to these places, I’m not overwhelmed to tears. I’m at peace. It is like visiting an old friend. If I am to be sad, it will certainly not be while I get to be in my dear friend’s company.
The weekend was incredibly refreshing. I have never been good enough at a sport to find myself in “the zone,” that is often talked about. I’ve never been able to slow down a baseball or have it look bigger. Even in basketball, I’ve never felt like I was doing something that was tapping into some inherent instinctual feeling skill. But, this weekend, the times I spoke and interacted, it felt like I was in the zone. The others who listened to me may dispute this, but I said just about everything exactly how I wanted to and interacted with everyone just like I hoped to. It felt so natural and right.
I don’t take this to mean that I shouldn’t have gotten out of the camping bizz at this point in my life. I really don’t take it mean that I should have either. I’m really not looking for any meaning beyond contentment. There’s a lot of uncertainty in my life right now, and most days I’m enjoying the excitement of being more unsure of the future than I have been. I do miss the blessing that came from living at camp, but it’s good to know that I can still visit, and that I can still be used to do what I love there.
There is no house at camp called Troy’s House anymore. But, I taught my first lesson in the Prayer Chapel that now has my name on it. I just wanted so bad for the camp to have a quiet place for people to pray that was worthy of the activity. So many other people made it what it is. As I was standing in that room, teaching groups of kids about sin and confession and redemption, catching chills because I could hear myself saying it exactly like I wanted to, I felt like I was at home, some type of home anyway. As I woke in a room in the Shanklin Hillside Lodge, I could see a panoramic view of the river. I will never get used to the view from that hill, looking down on that huge swath of water. At the end of the weekend, as I was packing my stuff to leave again, I knelt at the window to look out on that river that I know so well to pray for the people I had met this weekend and to show my gratitude that all of this could be in my life. In the end, I am a Nomad at heart. I hope to travel to many places in my life. These grounds, though, run through my veins, and they will go with me.