I know, I know. My posting is just all sorts of messed up this week. I couldn’t leave you all in the dark about camp, though, so bear with me. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming, more or less, next week.
Last week was my fourth summer at camp. My fourth summer. Granted, it obviously was not a full summer, but that’s still a lot of summers. Add on the three winter camps I’ve worked as well, and I’ve put in a whole lotta hours at camp.
I think it’s difficult to understand how much of an impact working at summer camp can have on your life unless you’ve done it yourself. Honestly, even if you have worked at camp, you still might not be able to understand it. Case in point: when I went back to camp this summer, there were about 15 staff members there that worked there my first summer (16 including me). Considering that the summer staff each year is somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 or 70 people, that’s not a very high percentage. I’d guess close to half the staff returns for a second summer, but after that the dropoff is pretty steep. Most people find other jobs, choose to do something else (…are able to move on with their lives *significant look at self*), but there are a few people–people like me–who find themselves continually coming back.
When I got a phone call during dinner on the Tuesday before Good Friday of my sophomore year of college asking me for an interview at camp that weekend, I never ever dreamed it would lead to this. I remember sitting in the lobby of the main building at camp three days later, feverishly trying to memorize these four principles they had on the wall–principles that I could now recite in my sleep. Principles that have become such a part of who I am, such a part of how I try to live particularly in relationship to other people, that I have a difficult time comprehending how I struggled to remember them in the first place.
HCRR (pronounced: HIK-ker). True blue, red like your heart, the golden rule, green like the trees. Every single morning for two full summers, plus two weeks, plus three winter camps, those principles rolled off my tongue as easily as the Pledge of Allegiance when we would recite (or read, if you so desired) the Character Creed at camp:
“I pledge my commitment to the four principles of honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility, and to reflect them in my thoughts, words and actions, to be the person I was intended to be.”
It’s a pretty simple sentence. Nothing wildly challenging to memorize (especially when you say it no less than 50 times per summer), and really nothing super groundbreaking here. You’re basically saying, “I pledge to be a good person.” But it’s that last phrase that always gets me: “the person I was intended to be.”
Every time I’m at camp, I feel like I’m being the person I was intended to be. I think that’s part of what keeps me coming back again and again, even though I’m no longer in college, even though I wasn’t an education major, never had any desire to be an education major, and still have absolutely zero desire to be a teacher, even though my skill set lies in writing and editing. I feel so authentically me at camp.
It’s so tricky, that “person I was intended to be” business. I like my job in Chicago. I like what I’m doing. I like that my job relates exactly to my degree. I like living in Chicago. I truly feel like I am exactly where I need to be right now, but then I go to camp and I can’t help but question everything. Because even though I’m perfectly happy in Chicago, even though my real job doesn’t leave me unfulfilled or dissatisfied, I feel like the work I do at camp is so much more important than the work I do in the real world. I have never once left my desk job feeling like the work I’m doing has helped anyone grow and develop as a person. I have never once been at camp and not been acutely aware of the fact that every single thing I do influences the children that were entrusted to my care.
I realize I have a pretty cushy setup here, and maybe that’s part of why I’m able to look at camp and the work I do there through such rosy lenses. I do have a real job, with a real salary and actual benefits that allows me to be financially independent from my parents. I can pop into camp for a week and not bat an eye at the fact that I’m putting in 50 hours of volunteer work, because I have paid time off and don’t need the laughably low weekly wage of your average camp counselor. I’m able to live into that one week as much as possible without worrying about getting burnt out, without growing too weary of 5:45 a.m. alarms and 12+ hour work days on Thursdays, without getting so incredibly sick of my fellow counselors that I have seen far too much of. I’m a camper disguised as a counselor.
I guess the most frustrating part for me is that I feel like camp is such a better environment for me than an office–from a health standpoint (moving vs. sitting), from a social standpoint (real interaction with human beings vs. e-mail and gchat), from a personal fulfillment standpoint (having a six-year-old give you a big hug and say, “I love you, Bethany” vs. exploring the width, breadth, and depth of BuzzFeed on a neverending quest to discern whether or not I am a 90s baby, extrovert, from the Midwest, female, alive, etc.). In all the columns on my metaphorical pro/con list, camp wins every single time…except in the “making a living” category. Cause folks, “financial independence” and “$200/50-hour work week” do not go hand in hand. And I hate that that “making a living” category has to be the trump card. I think there’s so much more to life than what you earn, but unless the American economy switches over to a barter system sometime in the near future, money, unfortunately, has to be important if I want to do things like eat and not be evicted.
I’ve never been particularly good at accepting that I can’t have my cake and eat it too, and I think that’s part of my struggle with camp and real life. I want to live in Chicago, but I want to work at camp. I want to keep my current job, but I want to be a camp counselor at the same time. I want to have one whole life, not a segmented “camp life over here” and “Chicago life over there.” But life doesn’t work that way.
Even though all this existential crisis business is hardly my idea of a good time, I’m still so grateful that I had the chance to go back to camp for a week. Camp may not be my only happy place, but it is certainly one of them, and being able to spend a week doing something you love in a place you love with people you love — well, I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.