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Hello Avery,

I love sharing stories about my childhood with you, and all too often I can only recall the darker and tragic fair of my past. I wonder if certain moments of un-tarnished joy are like the rare diamonds of memories shaped by the miles of earth hiding it  from sight. Thankfully, I have discovered one these rare historical gems of my past, and the more I contemplate its meaning, the more I can see how it has influenced every good decision, that I have ever made. I was thirteen years old, and on my way to my first and only summer camp. Far-far away from home, and every familiar face I had ever known, this is the story of camp unknown.

Camp was an immediate contrast to my everyday life. I had been living in a household that always had a kitchen filled with delicious snacks, soda and frozen pizza’s; I was accustomed to eating at-will, and with king esq. porpotions. At camp there was no food or sugary beverages available outside of the cafeteria’s three-meal schedule. I could no longer wash down a jumbo bag of chips with a two-liter of mountain dew, and call that, “Dinner”. This change taught me the difference between wants, and needs. Avery, let me be clear, a two-liter of Mountain Dew is not a need. The best part of this dietary shock was discovering a new love in a thing they called water. There was this one special water-fountain right outside of my cabin, and I would close my eyes, lean in close, purse my lips, and let it bestow my thirst with a blissful-brain-freezing-hydrating love. I have never tasted a better fluid to this day; as they say, first loves never die.

Another important discovery made at camp was in the form of a new social challenge. The simplicity of my childhood friendships was being eroded by the winds of popularity and puberty. This change of social-climate presented a threatening possibility that all my friendships could easily go extinct. Camp was starkly different, because you were a stranger among strangers, that are being offered an opportunity to be a genuine character with a fresh start. It was simple, everybody was a friend by default, and there was no incentive to be the enemy. The strange part of this social-setting is that I really can’t remember most of theses people; they became this fog of faceless friendly equals. I may not remember their names or recognize any of them if I saw them today, but I learned more about socializing from these nameless memories, than any of my past or current local best-mates.

Two of these strangers stood out above the rest, and will never be forgotten. One came from a five-minute conversation with my cabin camp-counselor. He was probably in his early twenties and had a general purpose duty to break up fist fights, tell us were not evil for masturbating (not a bad message… but kind of weird) and  most importantly he had to make sure nobody dies or gets molested. I never had any one-on-one interaction with him until this one special day called “The Hobby Fair”, all the counselors were to present a hobby of their choice, and we were supposed to pick something we had never tried before. Every table had a long line of kids figuring out what activity to try except one, and I saw my cabin counselor sitting there beneath a sign, “Bible Study”.

I thought,

“Why would anybody choose to study the bible”.

As a thirteen year old, I sincerely didn’t know that people chose religion, as a fun way to spend their time. I was raised in a Catholic family, and had been treating my faith like a chore. I summoned the courage to approach him with my curiosity.

I asked,

“Why would you want to do this on a Saturday?”

He said,

“I enjoy studying the Bible it makes me happy”

I replied,

“Has anyone signed up?”

He calmly states,

“None yet”

I asked,

“What will you do, if nobody does?”

He smiled warmly and responded,

“I will enjoy my Bible alone”

From this conversation, a controversial question stuck to the back of my mind; was he happy because he believed in God, or was he happy because he believed in the motives of his choices? The answer to the question seemed so clear and implied for him,  and very much the opposite for myself. This moment became one important piece of finding the faith in my own choices and I still firmly believed in my choice to sign up for soccer, and I did so with his inspired conviction.

The second memorable person was the evident poor kid. He wore a large stained t-shirt that had this huge clown face on it. At night our cabin would host playful wrestling matches where This kid would physically dominate everyone he faced, and would celebrate each victory with frightening impersonation of King-King. Later that week, the campground finally opened the pool. You had to take a swimming test to receive a special wrist-band that permits you to swim in the deep-end. I passed easily and spent all my pool hours jumping off the diving board and playing a game of deep-water treasure hunt. The rules were you had to challenging someone to collect the most sunken objects from the bottom of the pool, with just a single breath. Just as my clown-shirted friend did in the wrestling ring, I dominated every challenger that dared to try. Then one day I saw my friend walking up to the diving board. He was wearing the proper wrist band and of course he swims in his horrible clown shirt. He carefully shuffles to the end of the board, pinches his nose, closes his eyes and leaps forward into the water. In theory, he was going to use the bottom and push himself towards the latter. In reality I can guess his feet probably didn’t reach the bottom, and he clearly didn’t know how to swim. I waited, in a single moment of panic, wondering, “How does a person not know how to swim, and when is an adult going to save him?”. After that never-ending second of panic I took action, dove in head-first, grabbed him by his gigantic thighs and used all my leg kicking strength to push him up and over to the the ledge of the pool. By then a crowd gathered and over the ledge to safety. He coughed up a half-gallon of pool water and managed to make a small joke of it all by saying,

“I knew I could do it”.

Through the culmination of these different events I had discovered a belief system within myself; for the first time ever, I grasped a new notion that personal-worth wasn’t attained through popularity, faith, status, intelligence or wealth; it was exclusively defined by the value of your actions within the scope of your opportunities.

This camp was not for normal kids. I was sent there because I was labeled an “emotionally troubled youth”. There were some obvious red-flags that made it easy to pick me out of the crowd. But looking back as an adult I would like to think there was a teacher or social worker that heard some sort of cry for help. Whatever the motives for selecting me may have been it proves an all-important lesson that no matter where, when or why; we all have a responsibility to share, care, and act; because every human-being deserves an opportunity to be more than just another sad story.


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