This past week was filled with cool mornings and evenings, sandwiching warm, sunny mid-days. They tell me this is unusual June weather on the coast–that it is normally chilly and rainy. The fire hazard warning signs have moved from moderate to high, and we are becoming more careful about our campfires. Still, just within the given day, the afternoons feel pretty fantastic and I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky to do work that sends me outside into this climate.
We had our first week of program camps for this summer. That’s our term for camps that we put on, that are focused on spiritual growth for children and youth. Most of the year, Camp Magruder is a site for retreat groups, hosting and offering hospitality to help with the missions of a wide variety of organizations. It’s cool to be the host, to welcome travelers, to help them with their goals. There’s also something really powerful to periodically push forward in your own sort of mission. I came here hoping to help Camp Magruder grow in this. This summer, we’ll have three weeks welcoming campers ranging from Elementary to Senior High, and I hope we’ll help them find a way to respond to this thing we call God in a way that fits into this changing life, something relevant.
I think no matter how much experience you have in a profession, it’s a challenge to go somewhere new. You have to learn the history, the nuisances, the sensitive points, the traditions of a place. You have to learn their language and teach them your language. There will be miscommunication. There will be confusion. This week was my first program week as Assistant Director. It was also all my Resource Staff member’s first week. One thing I was thankful to see, though, is that most everyone was pretty consistently loving for each other and this place. When people care about each other, the mistakes are a lot easier to roll with.
The day campers arrived, I stationed myself in the parking area with a few staff members, the way I often had at Lakeshore, directing cars in an exaggerated, goofy way. I waved my arms and pointed with my whole body, guiding these cars to the place we wanted them to park. This was something I had to school the staff on–they are learning so much right now and cannot read my mind (as I frequently forget). But, as the process continued, a familiar feeling came back to me. I learned the names of campers as they stepped out of their cars. Some had been coming here as long as they could remember, some were here for the first time. I got to be the first person to talk to them, to welcome them.
I am incredibly confident in my passion for this work. I have seen something that works very well before, and I think I know how to lay the groundwork and help grow it. I love it, and I just do what I love with a lot of energy. But, I have these questions that linger about if anyone wants to hear about my passions or has any interest in the work I love. It’s the question I think most artists ask themselves. “Sure, I love creating this, but does anyone else care? Does this help anyone else besides me?” I consistently try to keep myself in check by asking if this thing I’m doing creates results.
I remember this moment in the middle of the week that I’ve been waiting for since I was hired at Camp Magruder. We were having a beach party at the ocean, doing limbo and tug-of-war. The sun began to set as we were getting packing everything up. Then, the leaders gathering the campers together to see the sun disappear behind the horizon. They formed into a circle and began singing. At the treeline, packing up the tug-of-war rope, I paused just to watch and listen. In that moment everything slowed down and got really simple. God slowed down and got really simple. I’d been waiting for the moment I’d see this big giant water tell us all something we might not be able to repeat in words, but that we certainly heard. A voice we all want to listen to.
We did an evening activity as a whole camp called “Life and Death in the Forest.” It’s a game where campers play carnivores, omnivores, or herbivores. They move around a part of our woods trying to find food and trying not to get eaten. All the different camps played, so we had 10 year olds all the way up to 18 year olds playing. By chance that turned out to be genius, most of the carnivores were the youngest campers. I walked through the shore pine woods on the west end of camp, under these moss covered trees. Salal bushes covered the ground and trees branched up like octopus arms. Kids chased each other, climbed, hid the brush. By the way, we had lots of staff patrolling, taking care of bruises and scrapes, keeping kids from climbing the trees above 6 feet.
I thought about how this is teaching these kids so many things. They are getting to know a space of woods. They are thinking about the animals that live here. They are playing and using their bodies. They young ones are learning from old ones they just met. The old ones are learning how to be role models, how to teach, how to shepherd. My nostalgia was broken up when I hear a crying camper. I asked him what was going on, and he told me he had tagged an older camper and the older camper had said some inappropriate words. Even in moments that seem completely transcendent, we can be quickly reminded that there are always challenges to that need to be attended to.
I went searching for this camper–I knew him, I had met him when he got out of the car on check-in day. When I found him and said we needed to talk, he knew exactly why I had pulled him aside. He got teary eyed and started to explain that the games was harder than he thought and he got frustrated. I told him that I understood, but that still didn’t make it ok to say things to a younger kid. I told him that it could be the first time he heard something like that. I also told him that he can try to make it right. He went to the younger camper and explained that he was frustrated. He asked him if he would please forgive him. It’s always hard to tell, but I hope this becomes a pivotal moment for them that they can go back to. I hope its a lesson about mistakes and anger and the way we treat each other and how we rebuild bridges that get torn down.
I’ve met a wealth of new people this week. I’ve met people who grew up going to this camp, who feel like this place is home. I’m still developing that feeling. I love this place, I’m in awe of it, but I’m still discovering that feeling of comfort that comes after you’ve had experiences in a place, when you’ve grown in a place. I know I can’t rush that, but as it comes, I’m trying my best to love everyone. I’m hoping, most of all, that’s a thing I will bring and add to the pot that’s here. I hope that it will keep people returning and draw more people to share it. I want everyone who comes to know what that feels like.
On check-out day, as we parked cars and guided them out towards their homes, I saw the kid who I had had to talk to after Life and Death in the Forest. I gave him the usual goodbye spiel–“I hope you had a good week. Come back next year,” but I also told him I was proud of him for apologizing. He said, “Troy you were the first person I saw when I got here, and now you’re the last person I see before I leave.” I don’t know what it’s going to do, I don’t know what exactly it will mean for this place, but this love urges me to seek these moments. There’s this hope that it will be what people need. I feel God entering in this hope and love. These goodbyes and hellos cycle and swirl around, and come back. Even in these busiest of days, I’m still trying to get out to the beach at sunset. Standing at the edge of the beach, saying goodbye to the sun each day, I hear something, something I want to share.