Summer camp truly is the ‘real world’
June 2, 2016
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I need to thank my friends for their admirable tolerance to my constant mentioning of summer camp, which I sneak in conversations at every available opportunity. They try, poorly, to hide their annoyance at my referencing people they’ve never met and places they’ll never see.
I’m like a devout missionary, not so subtlety trying to recruit them into the camp cult. I can’t help it, though. Like a drug, it’s always lingering in my mind, consuming space that would probably be better spent on the so called “real world,” as my dad frankly put it.
But this past year has made me realize, camp is the real world. This, what we live in now, whatever that may be, is just a lifelong virtual reality, a distraction from the root of it all.
Every summer like clockwork, a new group of kids comes into my care each week. I watch them enter the cabin, groaning about lack of air conditioning and cell phones. They are incapable of speaking to one another because they’ve never been taught how to communicate on a raw human level.
By the end of the week, they’re not even thinking about their phones. They’re inventing games with sticks and mud with their new best friends they’ve only known for five days. The girls who couldn’t bear leaving the cabin without a full face of makeup at first are, by end of the week comparing, who has the dirtiest feet, the greasiest hair and the loudest burps. Kids who cried at the concept of sleeping outside are begging us to do it again, to pee on trees and eat over the fire.
In just one week without technology and spiritual nourishment in its place, they’ve become one with nature, themselves and their peers on a level no one in the “real world” could dream of.
Watching the transformation of these kids altered the course of my life. It’s not just their newfound ability to communicate that inspired me, but a sudden empathy, creativity and willingness to explore, that showed me how important it is to be in the moment.
Doing this, simply “being” fully in the moment, resulted in my best camp memories. Like watching a meteor so close to earth we could see the blue fire engulfing it as it zoomed overhead beneath a full sky of stars. One night all the counselors, by coincidence, met up on a tiny bridge in a swamp at midnight surrounded by fireflies where we spontaneously burst into the song “American Pie.”
My best friend and I played killer zombies during the so called nap time with the kids, and half the cabin wet themselves they were laughing so hard. Those campers wrote us letters about that day and told us because of my friend and I, they had the best summer ever and want to come back to camp for the rest of their lives. I’ve clutched those letters to my chest in my lowest moments this year, remembering their smiles, their hugs and how alive it made me feel to be taken down by my zombie killing kiddos.
None of this would have happened in the “real world.” We wouldn’t be watching the sky the night of the meteor, we’d be watching TV. The counselors wouldn’t have all run into each other on an unplanned night walk, we’d be scrolling through our phones texting instead. The kids wouldn’t have played killer zombies with us, they’d have been playing zombie video games.
The real world is entirely detached from reality, and it’s up to us to decide which world we want to live in. I, even when summer isn’t in session, long after I’ve moved on and gotten a grown up job with kids of my own, when I’m surrounded by six cats and withering away in a rocking chair, choose summer camp.