When I leave camp and return to the other nine months of my life, the change is often abrupt, much more so than I would prefer– like slamming a car’s transmission up three gears higher than it should be. There are the obvious contrasts that cause this to be apparent—trading mountains and lakes for flatlands, scenic isolation for concrete and crowds, a constant oversaturation of community for long and lonely drives—but I think that what really causes this social and seasonal whiplash is that no one at home, wherever my home may be any given year, understands what I am walking away from every August.
It’s a strange thing, trying to cover the entirety of a camp summer in a standard catchall, catch-up chat. Even if I could process everything that happened in a summer, even if I could then articulate what I’d processed, there is no way I could hope to condense everything that had happened and all it meant to me into a series of daily PowerPoint presentations over the course of a month, much less into of the series of short monologues that encompass the reacquainting of friends who have been separated for a spell. Even if I could adequately convey all that had happened, everything that it all meant to me, it would be no more relatable than seeing a photo taken from the top of a rugged peak after a tough ascent. A snapshot never does justice to the true experience.
I remember when Cody, my childhood best friend and fellow Floridian, returned from his first summer as a counselor at Brookwoods. Before that summer, the two of us (along with a third friend) thought that we shared a friendship as close as there ever existed in the world and that the bond we shared was unique and rare. Then Cody came back talking about these people that he’d spent the last two and a half months with, talking about them like he’d known them for a decade, talking about them like he used to only talk about me. I couldn’t understand how it was possible that he’d formed a bond with anyone, much less a whole slew of strange Northerners, over the course of a summer as strong as the one that took us ten years to form.
Then, two years later, I joined the Brookwoods family and finally understood.
As I said before, even after four summers here it’d be impossible for me to articulate what it is about this place that so many hold so dearly, what it is that brings us all back here year after year. I’ve tried. But I’ll try again and hope that wherever I fall short of the mark of truth is sufficient enough.
As I reflect back on another summer gone by, I think that what truly separates Brookwoods and Deer Run from other places— camps in particular—is that people come here expecting open, honest, and deep interactions with each other. I think that this starts with the staff—many of us have more conversations about our trials, tribulations, temptations, triumphs, and joys in that mini-camp known as “Staff Week” than we have all year at school or work.
Those returning crave these conversations; those coming for the first time are immediately immersed in them and are at first overwhelmed but soon left wondering why such interactions aren’t as easy back home. The open and genuine relationships the staff have with each other are among the most powerful ministry tools I think we have; the campers are smart, they see everything we do— good and bad, twenty-four hours a day— and they will inevitably emulate the ways in which we interact with each other. In turn, the campers come back each summer, expecting to get closer and closer to the relationships they see in their elder role models—sometimes even surpassing these relationships.
We talk about ‘legacy’ a lot at camp, and while it’s important to look ahead to see how a new facility, new experience, or the increasingly abundant scholarships will affect generations of children, it’s even more important to realize what our legacy already is and how to maintain it. As a counselor, my job has been made immeasurably easier by those that came before me—two, ten, fifty years prior—and created/ perpetuated a culture where we can not only be immediately truthful and vulnerable with each other—peer to peer, camper to counselor— but that such openness and authenticity is expected, demanded even. I hope that I have contributed to this legacy, because Lord knows I have certainly reaped the benefits.
-Ian Lee Myers