Finding Your People

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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

Confessions from a Camp Counselor

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I have a confession. I am a memory hoarder. I collect meaningful experiences, stacking them in corners, hiding in special wooden boxes, folding them in books and framing them. It is the thankless job of the sentimental. It is the savoring of the moment.

I blame 19 years of camp for making me this way. You can’t write “warm fuzzies”—epic kind notes delivered to your friends at mealtimes—for that many years without attaching some meaning to them. They were sometimes funny, sometimes colorful but mostly spontaneous outbursts of affection and caring.

“I think you’re wonderful! I’m so glad we’re friends!”

Warm fuzzies are like helium balloons. From the outside they are small, silly looking bits of nothing important, but when they’re filled inside, they elevate. I remember an early warm fuzzy, when I was starting as a counselor, that I got from my camper Erin. She was 14 and had opened up to me about her detachment from her dad. Inside the carefully folded 8 ½ by 11 lined notebook paper she wrote,

“You are one of the top best things that has ever happened to me.”

And the words, like helium, began their lifting. I was never the same.

In the theater, they talk about being bitten by the acting bug.   Camp has our version of that. It is an addiction to the real, unbridled embracing of your authentic self and a desire to see each other’s “real” selves. It is wanting to illuminate their greatness so they see it. All I wanted to do was to influence people like that for as long as humanly possible.

I should have known better

I should have known better. I saw “Breast Cancer” on the caller I.D. when I picked up my landline—the line only my parents and telemarketers use. I pushed talk. I should have known better. We beat ourselves up for should have known better.

A pause before the caller picked up—a surefire sign of a telemarketer—“You are a tough lady to reach!” My eyebrows knit together, do I know her? She is perky.

“I’m calling for the Breast Cancer something something.”  I think of Debby. “We provide services for women who are dealing with breast cancer.”  I think of Cheri. “Can I put a postcard in the mail and see if you can donate a little something to help us out?” She sounds too damn perky to be calling me about cancer.

“You can put it in the mail and I’ll look at it and see what extra I have after my other donations.” I answer, terse. I’m suspect that she’s some random charity. I’m not sure if I have donated to them before. I think of Meagan. I think of Hannah and how my latest cancer donation body part is pancreatic.

“Aren’t you an angel!” She cheers, sweetness dripping from her lips, through the landline and all over my sudden and involuntary mourning. I can’t even stop to tell her to take me off her list. I can’t stop to tell her just send the damn thing. I can’t stop to tell her to tone done the syrup. I pull the phone away from my ear and click END.

I’m swamped with guilt. She was just doing her job. I have tears in my eyes.   I want to apologize without having to talk to her. I want to say, “It’s not that I don’t want to give you money. My friends just keep dying.”

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Why We Write it Down…stories we forget

Last night, I needed to find some photos of a dear friend.  It was the kind of urgency that comes with the dying, the definitive timeline, and has no wiggle room.  If only I could find the photos, maybe there would be one I had forgotten about, one that would make me say out loud in the quiet of my home, “Oh my gosh, I forgot about that one…”  That photo would carry a balm, a sense of You are losing that person, but not really, because you still have this..  

Would there be any pictures of us?  You know the ones.  Those photos where you can tell how well the friends connect from their comfort in the frame.  You can see the ease, the banter, the unapologetic mutual adoration, and silliness.

Pulling the cardboard box off the steel shelving in my guest room closet, I bent the folding flaps in my hurry to get to the albums.  Grabbing inside I tugged at the first of 3 small albums and opened it flat on my lap.  After only a couple of pages, there they were, pictures from conference.  One in particular had Dear Friend with a grin–not unusual–standing outside with my friend Nicole.

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Then I remembered what I didn’t know I had forgotten.

Nicole and I had been in charge of a cabin of seniors in high school.  DF was 18 and was in the cabin (DF is now an adult by the way) and Nicole and I had discovered–as you do at camp–that we connected.  We told the girls we were going for a quick walk while they finished getting ready for bed.  Our group was mellow and they’d likely chat a little and go to sleep.

We wandered the camp and even up to the edge of camp property–talking constantly–and eventually came back….MUCH later than planned.  I imagine we were easily an hour later than we’d planned.  Shameful, I know.  They were fine, by the way.

As we walked up the wooden steps of the cabin we noticed a piece of paper attached to the door.  Our names were on it.  It said, WHERE have you BEEN?  We have been worried SICK.  You said you would be gone for a little bit and it has been over an HOUR.  Sincerely, your CABIN.  

It is possible they grounded us.

We burst out laughing.   I couldn’t have felt more busted than if I had broken curfew as a teenager with my own parents.  We quietly opened the door, unsure of who was still awake.  One foot in the cabin and Dear Friend’s voice nailed us.  “Well look who decided to come back!”   She was clearly enjoying this, this role-reversal.  A teenage fantasy to put the adult in their life on the other end of a reprimand.  Except Dear Friend was trying very hard to keep a straight face.

The photo had brought it all back.  I’d forgotten this.  I thought it had been about the pictures, but the pictures were what brought back the story.  A story that now feels as needed as the photos of my Dear Friend.

And when I wonder if this text will be the last one she sends me, when impending and current sadness hides around the corner, I think I’ll say those same words in my mind and reprimand her.  “Where have you been?  I have been worried sick.”  I will flip it right back at her.

She’ll get it.

Look a Little Closer

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SONY DSCSONY DSCOn the twisting backroads to the YMCA camp I worked at for 19 years there was a flower farm–a single-wide home on a large lot with an enormous flower garden to the side–at the edge of the garden there was a worn, wood park bench with an old coffee can sitting on it.  Around the can was a handmade wrapped sign “Flowers 10c”  and a pair of garden shears balanced on the lid.

It was the honor system.  I especially liked that.

In the summer on our time off, the staff would often swing by, dig into our pockets for extra cash and bring back armfuls of flowers–dahlias mostly–their mix of color and shade in a blossom that looked like the fireworks we watch off the dock at 4th of July.  The flowers were never for us.  They were for some unsuspecting friend or friends back at camp.  We would bring them into the dining hall and place them in a plastic bucket we’d borrowed from the kitchen.

We bought dahlias because their personalities were big and their message was bold, just like we were.

What is summer to you?

photo (10) water sunset self-portrait sunset boatSummer has a way of sliding over me like my favorite t-shirt. It takes a little while for me to settle into my summer stride.  Maybe you relate. You know, first I have to fight off the nagging feeling that I should use my vacation to be productive, that I should EARN my vacation by a lot of work.  But then I went camping recently (and totally lacking anything productive) and suddenly it felt real.  There was a precise moment (sitting in the camp chair, feet on the picnic bench, joking about our state park neighbors) when I actually said, “This feels like summer.”

I have a long and meaningful relationship with this season.  I went to camp as a kid and then worked at a camp for 19 years.  I GET summer.  It is a magical time for me. Summer isn’t about weather for me. It is about 5 simple things.  What about you?

1) Being outside.  Getting my nature on.  Wandering into the woods or out on a dock and enjoying not being surrounded by people.  Having the view–the extraordinary view–be enough.  Be MORE than enough.

2) Relaxing.  Not I’ve got 15 minutes to sit down relaxing. I’m talking FORGETTING YOU HAVE A JOB relaxing.  This is the moment where your biggest decision is Should I make more tea or finish off the Doritos first?  It isn’t necessarily laziness–though Lord knows that’s an art form–it is about enjoying the pace of right now.  Nowhere to be.

3) Camping.  Now I know this might be sketchy territory for some folks, but hear me out.  Camping (or hiking even) gets you out of your space.  Gets you out of your home.  Gets you out of your parking spot.  It makes you small in the world.  Bye bye TV.  Hello, JUST SIT THERE.  Watch the way the fire licks the sides of the log you just turned over.  Stare up and actually notice that there are stars in the sky.  Stare long enough that you can’t count them.  Sip a cup of tea, tilt back in the chair and balance a book on your knee.  A BOOK.  Remember those? Heaven.

4) Laughter, preferably about something ridiculous and unimportant.  My friend and I, while polishing off cheese quesadillas, killed a good 1/2 hour discussing whether we could buy green vests and pretend to be the volunteer campground hosts.  We talked about what our duties would be and how we would hide the evidence if the real hosts came around in their golf carts.

5)  Being with kindred spirits.  My favorite people on the planet are kindred spirits.  They know me, they get me, they have no desire to change me, they banter, you get the idea.  True summer to me is saying to them,”I want to spend time with you” and their response is “Me too.”

What about you?  What makes your summer magical?

You’re gonna think I’m nuts, but hear me out.

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I believe in signs.

I don’t always know whether they are coincidence, signs from The Universe, or God or what, but I believe in their significance.  If that sounds too woo-woo, tree-hugging, new age whatever to you, I totally get it.  I’ve hugged a tree before and I’ll probably do it again.  But hear me out.

If your body can send signals that you are sick or something is not right, or body language can tell us things without you saying a word, then why not other signs?  Who is to say that we can’t be prompted into noticing things that we would normally blow off?  Who is to say there isn’t a greater message there?

Did that pair of shoes just tell me to buy them online?  Why yes, yes it did.

Who am I to argue?

Recently I had an experience that felt like this.  My dear friend Meagan Jones passed away recently at the ripe old age of 23…wrong in every sense of the word.   She was blunt and honest and loyal as hell.  She had an edge when she was annoyed and was brave when she shared the difficult truths of her life.

It had been about a month when I was sitting in church not paying attention—I’ll own that—and was thinking of her, noticing that even though she had died recently, I hadn’t thought of her for a few days.  I know in my head this is normal.  Still, the guilt arrived at the entrance to my thoughts and started pounding on the door.

“So soon?”   Guilt demanded, “You are forgetting her already?  Did your friendship mean so little to you that you forget a mere month-ish later?  That’s pathetic.”

Shoving Guilt aside, my mind drifted and tried to focus again on what was happening in the class at church.  They were doing introductions of new people.

“Welcome, what’s your name?” The class teacher said.

“Meagan Jones.”  The young woman asked.  I stopped breathing for a moment.

I don’t share this to make it seem extraordinary, just to point it out… The Don’t Miss This Moment of that experience.  “Her name is common,” Doubt countered.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that sometimes the universe, or coincidence, or God or even the incomparable Meagan Jones takes the time to show us something and the importance lies in our noticing.

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