These last two weeks, I’ve been existing as a camp counselor by day and, well, an exhausted twenty-something by night. Despite my sad farewell to Camp Ridgecrest, I was fortunate to work at not one camp this summer, but two. First, it was a weekend camp for foster youth; most recently, it was a local day camp called Camp Gilligan.
To be clear: Camp Gilligan is no Camp Ridgecrest. I mean, it’s kind of hard to top the cabins and lake and COUNCIL RING and almost 100 years of tradition. But as I learned by the end of my two weeks at Camp Gilligan, it’s just like Camp Ridgecrest in that one other critical aspect: the kids. Oh gosh, the kids.
Camp Gilligan: A Familiar Name
On Day 1 of Camp Gilligan, the counselors were given “camp names” by the other staffers. After sharing approximately 60 seconds of my life-story, including last summer’s adventure to Camp Ridgecrest, I was bestowed with a most familiar, appropriate name:
Gosh, that name; from this blog to my book to my very existence, how pivotal a name it’s become. Even after I was named at Camp Ridgecrest, the kids hardly ever called me by my Indian name. I was always “Tom” first, “Traveling Golden Trout” never. Those sacred Indian names were more or less a “counselor thing.”
This summer, however, I fully embraced the name. Whenever kids asked for my “real” or “full” name, I never responded with “Tom.” Instead, I responded with “Traveling Golden Trout.” It wasn’t until the final day of camp when I revealed my actual, less-than-stellar three-letter name.
For two weeks, I was simply Trout. Whenever kids or staffers shouted that name, I instinctively turned my head as if my dear Polish mother bestowed the name upon me at birth.
Trout — more than my name.
My very identity.
Camp Gilligan: A Familiar Routine
Speaking of Polish roots, a blonde-haired boy from Poland was at our camp, and he spoke very little English. I called my aforementioned Polish mother and asked for some Polish language tips; I’ll never forget seeing my long lost Polish brother’s face light up when I greeted him one morning with Cześć, jak się masz?
That sweet Polish kid was just one highlight of many over my last two weeks at Camp Gilligan. One awesome kid of many. No, I wasn’t inhabiting cabins or hiking mountain trails with kids like last summer at Camp Ridgecrest.
But I was bumping volleyballs with them. I was letting them splatter egg yolks over my squinting face. I was allowing them to stuff 13 balloons up my shirt. I was even swimming and diving with them. (A truly shocking reality if you’ve read Struggle Central.)
I was sitting on a shady hillside hearing stories about Jesus with them. I was “shaking another hand” and “scratching another back” and “squeezing another knee next to ya” with them. I was standing up to share my testimony for them.
In essence, I was doing most everything I did last summer at Camp Ridgecrest, only this summer I wasn’t in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains. I was “just” at a city park hardly 10 minutes from my apartment.
Camp Gilligan: A Familiar Heartbreak
And so I learned that Jesus is just as capable of penetrating kids’ lives at an awesome tradition-lined landscape like Camp Ridgecrest as well as a newer, smaller-scale day camp like Camp Gilligan. I learned that love and joy can permeate a camp here in Orange County as it does at faraway Ridgecrest.
I remembered that there’s magic at camp. Magic that climbs on counselors’ backs and runs through sprinklers. Magic that plays, magic that sings. All-encompassing magic at a massive camp 2,500 miles away and one here in my midst.
And so, as another camp ends, I can’t help feeling my heart break all over again.
Breaking over the reality that this fleeting wisp of magic has once again been lost.