Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nine Weeks at Camp Beech Cliff

Camp Beech Cliff: nine short weeks; 42 incredibly long days. 42 incredible days.

Within those 42 days, something transcendent happened at camp. Some how all the bits and pieces of programming, scheduling and logistics transformed into something wonderful to behold. Some how pottery, performing arts and sailing became so much more than just building pinch pots, singing and being on the water. Some how camp became something greater than the sum of its parts: something magical.

I say "some how," but I can tell you exactly how it happens. Hard work. Stupendously hard work. The kind of all-consuming work that at the end of the day left all the counselors crowded around the table in staff housing, stuffing their faces with whatever odd bits of carbs and sugar they had left–there's no time to get to the grocery store–staring blank faced at each other, too tired to follow through on the grand plans of volleyball or rock climbing. That is, of course, assuming these same counselors were able to get away from camp to eat something in the first place.

The transcendence, the "magic," doesn't appear in the air; there are two places you can see it created–one, forged slowly when, not just one or two, but a whole host of staff burns the midnight oil, hoping every moment with campers shines. The second part comes while facing reality: camp happens.  All those beautiful plans can be destroyed in mere minutes. If you really want to see the magic, watch what happens when you tell the camp director 7 staff members are out sick or a program head they have to accommodate 15 extra kids in their activity or a counselor they're getting the rowdy kid who has to move groups. You might miss it at first; it is subtle: camp still happens. And it is still good. So very good.

There is no potion, no perfect recipe to make everything come together. And outside of a sea of caffeine, the only thing that makes the task easier is knowing that there is an incredible group of people at your side for support and an equally incredible group of campers who demand and rightly deserve the very best.

The best is what the campers got. From the first moment through the last, they always got everything their counselors had to offer. Many times, most times even, that was more than enough. I worked with truly inspiring people, seeing them give everything to camp, witnessing their amazing ability to slowly but surely change lives kept me striving to be better all summer.

But sometimes, the very best I had to give, the very best we had to give, wasn't good enough. Sometimes my best was only enough to watch the kids play for an hour before their overnight started rather than joining their games. I still tried to give everything I had, but there was nothing left. And in that moment, all I could do was stay awake and stop them from getting hurt.

Sometimes all I could do was let the campers play their very favorite game for an hour because I had lost three of the four people I relied on each day. The very best I could give that day was just not crying because some of my best friends had packed up and left.

And in those moments, I hated myself for not being better. For not making every moment outstanding. I know it's normal, and I know it's perfectly okay to have bad days. But my coworkers, as a whole, set an impressively high standard by which I judged myself. Because all day, all around me I saw stellar examples of counselors rocking their jobs, smiling through every adversity. And it made me better. My best got better because of the wonderful family I got to be a part of.

It's the whole of the Camp Beech Cliff family that I have fallen in love with. It blows my mind how many outstanding moments can transpire in such a short time–how 50 almost-total strangers can pull together so quickly to create magic.

And truly, we are a family. Wonderful and weird as we may be, we are bonded now in a way that only people who live and work with each other continually can understand. And just like any other family we developed our idiosyncrasies: different oddities that get picked up and carried by working so closely with a very funny, diverse group.  I asked some of my fellow counselors what quirks they noticed our staff had developed.

We determined if you spend nine weeks a Camp Beech Cliff you might:

Find yourself asking to "connect" with someone you just want to have a conversation with. And during the time you "connect" ask them to help you "facilitate" whatever you're trying to accomplish.

Say things like "I understand why you feel that way. Can you think of a better way to react the next time this happens" and "can you explain what you mean when you say that" to your friends.

Immediately crouch or kneel when beginning a conversation.

Think to yourself, "when was the last time I sat down? I sat down when I ate lunch, right? Why don't I remember that? Oh. I didn't eat lunch." Or "when was the last time I showered? I think it's Friday, so Tuesday, right? Maybe Monday... Sunday at the latest."

Realize that if you wash your staff shirts at least once in the summer, it's still fine to wear.

Develop an immunity to feeling weird about how much underwear gets left on the boardwalk. "Guys everyone has to wear underwear. It's not gross; it's fine."

Gain a sixth sense about campers misbehaving. "Why do you just look like I need to get you in trouble? What are you doing? Go back to where you're supposed to be."

Crush hard on Sylvie. Everyone has a crush on Sylvie. There's nothing better than getting a Sylvie smile during the day.

Run into campers in Bar Harbor and spend the next week talking about exactly who cried during The Fault in Our Stars and who didn't.

It has been such an amazing summer. I really don't have enough good things to say about the people and the place. I have been struggling to finish the post because I don't know how to write the conclusion. But I suppose it's fitting because I also have no idea how to conclude my summer. I didn't want it to end. And saying goodbye has been extremely difficult for me. I would love nothing more than for everyone to show up next Monday at 7:30 for a staff meeting to kick off the week. So rather than dealing with all of that, I'll take Jenny's advice: "It's a blog. You don't need to conclude jacksh*t."

Being friends means never having to button up your shirt.