Sunny days returned to the Oregon coast this week, bringing a very crisp blueness to the sky and the ocean. The sky is always blue if there aren’t clouds, but there are some days where the blue is just bluer. You’ve been living in digital, which is nothing to complain about, but every now and then, you wake up to high def. As the week closed out, though, a marine layer crept in each morning and evening, sometimes even blanketing us in a drizzle. It was a reminder of what the other seasons often look like here. Mountains received cloudy brushstrokes that would cover them up, then slowly drift by. There will be a moment each day when you catch a chill, then another moment you feel a little warm for your choice in clothing. It is incremental, but always shifting.
We had four retreat groups this week that may have been one of the most interesting and enjoyable mixes of people we’ve had this summer. Camp KC (Kids Connection) is an annual camp for kids and youth who have been affected by HIV either by knowing someone or having it themselves. We also hosted Step Up, a program by Open Meadow Alternative School that visits schools all over Portland and helps teens develop skills that will help them succeed and overcome their big challenges. We were also visited by two different suburban High School leadership groups. I love these moments when different communities cross paths and see each other in these alternate universes, where they are all working towards something important side by side.
Allyson’s little brother Andrew and his long-time girlfriend Beth arrived for a visit in the middle of the week. I love that we have had so many of the important people in our life come in such a short amount of time. The most difficult part of leaving Kentucky/Tennessee was leaving most of the people we know and love. I find comfort in showing some of those people this amazing place, welcoming them into this new home in what so often feels like paradise to Allyson and me. I love paying attention to that look on the face the first time we show them the beach or the view from Highway 101 on Neahkahnie Mountain or feed them Tillamook cheese. It is these two great loves coming together, and when they also love each other it is wonderful.
I remember when I was a teenager, one summer I wound up in a separate cabin from my best friend James during our week of summer camp. I’ve realized since then that when campers get separated from their best friends, it’s a great opportunity to meet new people. It was the first summer that I made substantial friends during a summer camp. They invited me to go to Memphis and spend the night with them. I wrote letters with some of them. It was the beginning of some friendships that have lasted to this day.
I was nervous, though, about my friends meeting James almost exactly a year later. James was my lifelong friend who knew me better than anyone else. We were there for each other when it didn’t seem like anyone else was. Now there was this new group of friends, friends who were cool and interesting in a way I hadn’t encountered in school. Friends who immediately accepted me and even wanted to know me more. But, I had no idea how they would react to this other friend. I was almost at a point of dreading it. Sometimes we want something to work so bad, and we worry so much about it not working, that we convince ourselves it shouldn’t happen. But, I wasn’t about to do that to either group of my friends. If I stayed friends with each of them, they would intersect at some point.
On the first day of their retreat, Step-up surprise their kids with a mile long run that ends at the top of our big sand dune. They don’t tell them about it, because they want the kids to get annoyed and show an attitude over it. They were trying to get them to examine how they deal with stress in their life, and having to run with no warning seems to do that well. Over the week, they learned about how to deal with those issues. Then, on the last day, they surprised them with another run to see if they dealt differently. Our staff went out to cheer for the kids on both days. It was an exciting shift from the first run to the second. Kids were dragging on that first run and didn’t seem to care. On the second run, it looked like they were competing in a race. We cheered and gave them high-fives. It felt like something big, something important.
Camp KC has some interesting dinner routines that involve one table calling to another and making them stand up and do some sort of dance. Sometimes they shook their rumpus, sometimes they showed you how to disco, other times they skipped around the room. This got pretty loud, and as the week went on, other groups joined in, adding some of their own songs to the mix. There was this moment when it got very loud, and I wondered if it was all good-natured. The high school group seemed to me a little too competitive, they seemed like an opposing sports team’s fans. I noticed Step-up was being fairly quiet through the meal. These are things we worry about when different groups get together. We worry they may not understand each other, that they may not see in each other what you see in them. The moment passed. The next day, I enjoyed seeing Step-up call out the Guppy Girls from Camp KC to shake their rumpus, then the otter boys from KC call out a step-up table to skip around the room. They all got up and danced, laughing at each other.
It turned out, my dread over James meeting Steve, Mark, Randall, and Scott was unnecessary. Before the end of the first day we spent together, we had all melded into one group. Today, we’re all still very close and there is no separation. This is rare. We run in these different worlds that are separated, and they don’t often cross, they don’t often think of each other. I realized just a few years ago how I grew up in the worst of the AIDS crisis, but didn’t really get what it was doing to a whole population of people. This week, I realized I still hadn’t even been around anyone from an AIDS community.
I came home one afternoon to find Allyson, Andrew, and Beth returned from one of their outings on the coast. They had food from the farmer’s market. Beth was reading her complete works of Jane Austin she found at Powell’s Books. Andrew was in front of our fireplace, working to get a fire going. I knelt there next to him, helping him get the tinder where it needed to be, showing him how to use the bellows my parents got for me when they visited in May. The fire blazed up, and we sat around on that gray afternoon talking about how beautiful this place was. They were here with us, loved ones from one world in this new world. It was merging together. Next week, we’ll have to tell them goodbye until the next visit. We’ll welcome more friends and family, hoping we find ways to merge these loves, so we can love them all more fully. We don’t always know how it will happen or if it will. We just dress as we think we should for it and go out see and feel the air move over us. It is incremental, but always shifting.