This is the first in a series of pieces about the huge impact that YMCA Camp Echo has had on my life.
Recently, I told a friend I wanted to write a piece about camp. And then I sat down and realized that there was no way I could write one piece. But I could write one hundred.
As you might have guessed, I was not at camp this summer. Time has passed, and I’ve gotten old enough that professional development and financing my education and planning my career take precedence. And while I love my career, it makes me sad. Because camp... camp is... it’s...
And here comes the point where I cannot find words to describe what camp is any longer. It’s like if someone asked me to describe my left foot. I can’t. I see the thing every day, but what I see is so taken for granted, so normalized, so part of me and my experience that I can’t imagine the thing in isolation. I can’t imagine my life without it. The most I can do is tell you that I wear an american shoe size 6.
Well, camp is like that. I can tell you that I’ve gone for 18 years, as a camper and as staff. But I can’t really describe it to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. I can’t describe the feelings, the phenomenon, the love that I have for it--not really. Why, you ask? I’m a perfectly good writer, and a very reflective person. But it’s been such a huge part of my life since the age of 6, and now, at 24, it’s impossible to imagine my life had I not gone to Camp Echo.
But I suppose I can try to imagine such a world. In that world, my 6-year-old self never went camping. My 8-year-old self never spent her first week away from home. At 9, I didn’t learn to tread water. I was always the quiet kid, but I never experienced and learned to love the Olympics, a 24 hour period in which you never stopped screaming nonsensical cheers for your team. I didn’t ride horses, or help scoop their poop. I didn’t encounter young counselors from all around the world. I spent my middle school years in perpetual exile, without an alternate community to escape to in the summer, to make me feel that somewhere, people liked me, or would talk to me, or tell me that I was talented at something.
I never learned to kill spiders, or withstand mosquitoes. I never learned to make a fire or fix a stove or repair a backpack. I never overcame my shyness to shout orders or to run an event. I never was entrusted with the responsibility of ten children, and never discovered I could handle being a leader for my peers. I never appreciated the stars, worshipped the sunsets, or reveled in ice-cold rivers. I never conquered my fears of the darkness when my flashlight went out. I never pushed my body farther than it could go, and found I could endure even more.
I never climbed mountains, survived storms, or biked 365 miles. I never learned how to look on the bright side. I never struggled with the impasse of nature. I never was faced with a need to become less stressed, or a reason to. I never stood up for what I believed in even in the face of prevailing opposition. I never became a lifeguard, or a swim teacher, or a Wilderness First Responder. I never wanted to become a teacher.
In short, I wasn’t me. Because after 18 years, the person I’ve become owes much of her existence to Camp Echo. We are inseparable.