Finding Your People

campfire-no-shadow-hi

As a self-professed Camp Geek, I’ve grown to embrace my title. There were years in my 20’s where I would try to explain the Wonder of Camp People to non-camp folk. But it is hard to explain what it is like to feel so connected to someone that you can meet them on a Friday and leave on Monday with a sneaking suspicion that you just met your best friend. In fact, I’m aware that even writing that sounds crazy, but there it is, so what can you do? It is daunting to explain what it is like to push yourself out of your comfort zone and share your fears and struggles with total strangers. You’d be surprised that it is almost easier with strangers than when your friends are in the group.

Like I said, I’ve tried to explain it to people, but I’ve mostly given up.

I turned 43 yesterday. The 40’s have been weird for me. I think that’s primarily because I got sick when I was 36 so the latter half of my 30’s was spent seeing doctors, taking drugs, gaining weight from those drugs and carting around an oxygen tank. My friends were hiking, dating and most definitely NOT going to the doctors enough to know their dogs’ names.   Now I’m in the 40’s and sans oxygen tank, way less doctor drama and I feel like I fell asleep for a few years and suddenly now I’m 43.

This afternoon I read Pamela Druckerman’s article in the New York Times What You Learn in Your 40’s (link below.) The line that resonated with me was, “By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

I think I might have to worship at the alter of Ms. Druckerman for a moment. You see, Friday I had 3 friends over—three Camp People—to be specific. They came over for about 20 hours. We are Camp People after all, there needed to be sleeping bags. And after the pleasantries of “How was your day?” and “How’s work?” we shifted gears and got down to business. We’d planned a number of activities, fun, sharing and deep to be Camp People together.

Just as a joke and for the sake of tradition we started with a name game.

Me: Ok, we all know them, who has a name game? (keep in mind, we all know each other’s names)

K: I’ve got one. Ok…we’re all on a ship together. My name is K and I’m going to bring a……

It went on from there. I lit up a little. Where else could I say, “Who has a name game?” and have the group effortlessly flow into the activity?

We shared the last photo we’d taken on our phones and the story behind it. We shared the song on our phone we are currently most obsessed with. We shared the photo we are currently obsessed with. We were easing into this—light and breezy—every good cabin session needs to start like this. Low risk.

We went on from there, answering questions, laughing and accumulating inside jokes on the carpet and couch. Just like camp, suddenly the phrase Schmidt Fingers made us all giggle like kids and sent K into a mock-band intro, “Let’s give it up for Schmidt Fingers!” Or when asked why farts smell (it was one of the questions in the box) somehow the phrase Poop Toxins—also an excellent name for a band—came into the conversation and we referenced it repeatedly.

And in the accumulated stories and sharings, there was the activity of sharing a memory, not as the way it occurred but as how you WISH it happened. Memories were shared but tweaked. Other memories of things that never happened were shared as if they had happened. The energy of the room shifted into serious and quiet.

It was an excellent way to start a birthday weekend.

And when I think of these people, ages 24, 32. 39 and 43. I think of how we are a varied group of women. Various levels of education, varying life experience, various families etc. We are still Camp People. It is our common language.

Druckerman is right. “By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

Here’s to finding your people.

Link to Druckerman’s article

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/01/opinion/sunday/what-you-learn-in-your-40s.html?WT.mc_id=2015-Q1-KWP-AUD_DEV-0101-0331&WT.mc_ev=click&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1420088400&bicmet=1451624400&ad-keywords=AUDDEVMAR&kwp_0=10646

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Yes, I quoted Oprah. So sue me. A tree lover’s guide to cancer and the woods.

What I know for sure regarding grief and nature.

Yes, I did it. I quoted Oprah. I’m not proud of it but the line came to me and I’m going to own it.

This weekend I was reminded of a few things I know for sure.   I escaped this weekend. Broke the chains of laundry. Tore off the shackles of dishes and vacuuming. Late on Friday night—in a moment of spontaneous decision-making—I hopped online, booked a hotel room and packed a bag. Then, like a kid who’s just gotten away with something, I smiled, crawled into bed and set my alarm to make an early ferry.

I had to.

Maybe it was the residue of the previous weekend.   I’d spent the evening with a 25-year old friend who is knee-deep in the trenches of pancreatic cancer. Not good.

Not just not good. Bad.

I am so tired of cancer. I am tired of its systematic and relentless pursuit of people I love. I resent the way it takes who it wants regardless of circumstance, character or age. So you can appreciate why I didn’t give a damn about my dishes or the fact that there are three Amazon Prime boxes sitting in my living room with their contents strewn about. All of this warranted ACTION on my part.

Get the hell out of town. Run for the woods. Head to the Hoh Rain Forest.

It needed to be a little inconvenient. The ferry ride, the 3+ hour drive. You see, the inconvenience underlined the significance of leaving. I needed to be away, tucked beneath Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs well over 200 feet. Moss blankets everything from boulders to every inch of branches that reach out like fuzzy fingers. I needed the serenade of the Hoh River, its conversation, a loud party full of light chitchat. I longed for the solitude of a trail where I go at my pace and stop when I want to take pictures (even if I already stopped a minute ago.) I want the freedom to jump when thunder booms above me and to leave my hood down when the downpour comes. I want to take the untouched side trail—the soggy ferns soaking my shorts as my thighs pushed them back with each step—up to the waterfall to get a better photo and to stand there and close my eyes.

Normally, whenever I return to the trailhead, to the comfort of my car and whatever snacks I’ve left behind, there is a sense of pride. An I did it. This time I felt that, but it was different. Something about the forest opens me.

I text a video of the waterfall to my 25 year old friend.

Me: I sent you a waterfall. Early birthday present.

My friend: Thank you!!!!!!!

Me: I mentally took you on the hike. I hope you aren’t sore.

My friend: It was like I was physically there!! My legs are killing me! How many miles was that again?

Me: Just shy of 6. I have to tell you, you weren’t very helpful when we found ourselves on the trail with a big elk about 30 ft. ahead and another one about 30 ft. behind (with their family peering in from the bushes.) Otherwise, you were a trooper.

My friend: Oh my gosh!!! I bet I was useless. “Oh look, large and dangerous mammals. LET’S PLAY WITH THEM!!!”

Me: I thought when I had to tell you to stop trying to pet them was the real low point.

My friend: That was the low point. Even their antlers are furry!

Somewhere during the texting conversation the tears started. Tears of loss, of pent up energy, of fatigue. These were tears of relief. Relief that we could still play. Relief that we could pretend we had hiked and faced down some elk together. Tears that sometimes the best way to connect is to talk about what you wish you did rather than what you have to do.

Hoh waterfall Hoh River

The Words We Say

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Words are my scrapbook.  I collect them.  Not the big and fancy ones–although at times they enhance my writing–but the ones that connect to my memory.  In the way that the smell of Purell–real Purell, green specifically–transports me back to the hospital, or the way the song “Two of Us Riding Nowhere” from the I am Sam soundtrack puts me in my red 2-door (2 cars ago) and back on the road to Maple Valley, words are my best memory.  They are the closest thing to traveling back in time and reliving moments.  

I remember words people say. 

I write them down. 

I save them like pressed flowers written on journals. 

Another friend–Debby–as she was in the last months of her life and we were talking on the phone (me-frantically writing down everything she was saying) would say–during awkward pauses when I’d stop mid-conversation, “You’re writing this down, huh?”

She knew I was saving the words.  She graciously allowed for pauses.  

Sometimes I retrieve words.  Usually these are in moments of needed comfort when everyday strategies fail me.  These are the kinds of moments when reliving the event, the conversation, the memory is imperative.  When nothing else seems to do the job. Moments of I want to remember. 

I want to remember how the generosity of words fills my soul. Kind, generous and compassionate words are a balm for rough days.  They are a light and firework for great days.  But more than that, the generosity of words from people that I know is something I savor and tuck away like precious bits of comfort that remind me who I am and who I am to others

Tonight I went word hunting.  Scouring my phone, racking my brain, “Where did I put those words?” I am looking for my friend’s words.  I know they are in my writing notebooks, tucked in the back so I didn’t confuse them with my writing-writing.  They are written quick and tight.  I just wanted to get them down, to make them permanent and to keep up with the conversation.  They are also in my phone and I search for the words–notes I’ve saved from conversations–hoping that they will be sufficient to sustain me. 

Here are some of them….gathered memories.

* I teased her that her cancer–Signet Cell Ring–sounded like something Voldemort would put a Horcrux in.

*We joked that “Friendship bracelets are nice, but friendship diamonds are WAY better.”

*When I shared my Girl Scout Cookies with her–in an act of clear self-sacrifice–and said, “Bet you love me now, huh?” 

and she said, “Yeah.  But I loved you already.”

*When she shared with me that she was cancer free–however brief that was–and added, “Thank you for talking and listening when I needed it.”

Words are the script to some of my very best days.  They remind me of some of the people I miss most.  This friend in particular.  I miss her already.  Being present with another is the essence of compassion, the foundation of these words.  

It is a reminder to me to be more generous with my own words, to see words as service and to see the withholding of warm and compassionate words as a lost opportunity for connection.

“Compassion doesn’t always call for grand or heroic efforts.  It asks you to find in your heart the simple but profound willingness to be present, with a commitment to end sorrow and contribute to the well-being and ease of all beings.  A word of kindness, a loving touch, a patient presence, a willingness to step beyond your fears and reactions are all gestures of compassion that can transform a moment of fear or pain.”

-Christina Feldman Compassion:  Listening to the Cries of the World