I made my return to my relatively new home on the Oregon Coast this week, after visiting the South getting to see friends and family and swallow a bunch of pollen. The Northwest greeted me with a mix of overcast and sun with temps pretty perpetually in the 50s, topping just above 60 when the sun was right. Days this week generally required something warm and something light–I spent time just about each day switching from long sleeves to short then back again. There have been some very windy days, shifting the sand on the beach in mounds towards the tree line. You can stand there and have a mound begin to build around you.
I have worked in camps so long, it’s very much in my blood, and there are certain things I don’t really have to think about any more. But, when you move to a new place, you have relearn some of those things you knew so well at the old place. I can see why people spend 50 years at one job, because there is a great comfort in just knowing something well. Here in Oregon, I know about the work I’m doing, but there are a lot of details to learn. There are nuisances that are the way things work here that are hard to know until you just do them. Still, I don’t want to be the guy who starts leading a group and finds the group knows more about how things have been run than me. But, there are things I know really well that come naturally here too. Then an hour later, I’ll do something that makes me feel like I’m a summer staffer working my first day.
This week, I got to lead what the camp calls “wave jumping,” for the first time. In this activity, we take campers out into the ocean holding onto a rope, because the ocean is a little too powerful and cold here for us to feel comfortable just free swimming. Working in West Tennessee, we didn’t have activities out on the ocean, so this is a whole new activity for me to lead. I’m a lifeguard, and I’m also a pretty strong swimmer. I know water safety in general, but doing this was totally new. Oh, and I was leading this activity for a school for the blind.
As I’ve grown, the more I’ve traveled, the more people I come into contact with, I see the world more and more as this enormous, powerful thing. Forests can be so big and sweeping. Great cities can spread out for miles and overwhelm the senses. Then look up in the sky and try to wrap your head around how big the universe is, how far away stars are, how each night we stand and look up at the doorstep of something that’s bigness our brains can hardly understand. I think humans probably first started to articulate their ideas about a God in situations like this, standing next to something huge.
In prepping for wave jumping, I grilled my boss and other staff members on how it’s done, on every little detail, so I could feel like I was doing it the best way and my group would feel like I knew what I was doing. I gave the rules, we took off our shoes, and made our way down to the beach. And so, I lined up with a group of about 10-15 and we began to step together towards the ocean, only two or three of us able to see what we were walking into. Pretty quickly, my instincts and sensibilities took over and I knew I (and everyone else) would be just fine. The first moment the cold water of the surf washed up over everyone’s ankles I heard squeals and cheers. I asked, “Do you want to go deeper?” Everyone said yes. We continued in this dance with the ocean. We would step forward. The Ocean would step forward then back. We would step forward. The ocean would step farther forward. We would step back. Then we would step forward again.
I felt this great feeling of connection during this time. We were all holding a line together. We were all letting water wash over us, mostly just for the purpose of seeing what it felt like. I would ask the kids how far they thought the water was. Sometimes they were very close. Sometimes when I told them, they were amazed by how far the ocean was moving back and forth. I asked them to listen and tell me when they thought the ocean was coming and how high it was coming in. They began to get to know the ocean, some feeling it for the first time in their lives. We had two or three sneaker waves that came up much farther than the rest that brought water above our knees. Everyone let out this surprised yell that turned into something joyous.
I’ve thought about how those kids without vision perceive the ocean differently than I do. Of course, there are the obvious answers like they probably don’t know what color it is, but I wonder what the ocean is to them, differently than me. There have been times this week that I closed my eyes out there, trying to picture the ocean based on sound and touch. It felt different. Sometimes it seemed bigger, because I wasn’t just dealing with the image of the ocean–I was dealing with all the sounds of the ocean which takes up a much bigger space. Then, the ocean was in front of me, but also above me and to the side of me. There are so many different ways to develop a picture of a thing. When you do this, you learn that there is more to this thing than just your eyes can tell you. There was more going on this day on the beach with water washing over us than I could tell you with images.
This weekend I did my first counselor training since moving to Camp Magruder. This has always been one of my favorite parts of camp work. I love to teach, and I love that feeling that through programs like this, we are adding members to a family or maybe helping family members grow up. Of course, this is training in a different place, with a different program, with different people. Still, once I plunged into it, instinct became the guiding factor. We plan and fret before stepping up to the ocean. Once it is time to walk in, we let what we know take over.
As I’m typing this, it’s my 37th birthday. I’m thankful to feel like I’m not in any kind of mid-life crisis territory. I feel a lot younger than what I think 37 should feel like, which I guess is a good thing. As I fixate on life and death, it hardly seems like I could have been here 37 years already. I feel like aging is walking towards something larger and larger. Hopefully as you go, you know more and more. Hopefully you see that enormous thing in new ways as you go. You listen to it, let it wash over you. Let its wind brush your face, speak into your earlobes.
On the morning of the last day of Counselor Training, I led the group of mostly teenagers too the beach. I had written this large message in the sand for them, that was partially a message I felt God might be communicating to me. On one side it said, “This is bigger than you can possibly imagine.” On the other side it said, “and you get to be a part of it.” As they read the message, I trotted, alone, to the edge of the tides and looked out at that huge mass of blue water. When I looked up, the group was standing in line on both sides of me, looking out onto it too. I felt like we were all standing at the edge of something enormous, something joyous.