I’m Not at Camp this Summer

It didn’t fully hit me until two nights ago: I’m not at camp this summer.

I remember feeling the weight of this strange reality early into last summer’s decision not to return to Camp Ridgecrest. Later in the summer, however, I remedied the restlessness of the situation by working and volunteering at not one, but two local camps.

This summer is different. As I came home to my hosts in Olympia after a day of #RunningTo wandering, I saw Major League Baseball’s All Star Game playing on television — a jarring sight I’d not seen in four summers.

I was still a boyish resident of Georgia the last time I’d witnessed an All Star Game. The National League had finally won the Midsummer Classic after 12 straight losses (and one pesky tie). I’d like to think the NL’s skipper that year, my Phillies’ own Charlie Manuel, had much to do with the long awaited win, but that’s beside the point.

The sight of that game on TV issued an epiphany. A camp-less epiphany that has been building for weeks now.

Camp Ridgecrest lake

While wandering through Saskatchewan a few weeks ago, I stayed overnight at my friend’s camp just prior to their first session. As I toured the dormant property, soon to be crawling with kids, and saw the dining hall and all the cabins and lake, my heart mourned over sweet memories of summers past.

In 2011, there was the boy in Milwaukee who came outside to keep me company while I grilled over a hundred hamburgers and hot dogs by myself. He sat on the cooler opposite the grill and told me all about his Iowan world as I felt a little less alone in mine.

Thomas Mark Zuniga at YouthWorks Milwaukee

In 2012, there was the boy at Ridgecrest who went out of his way to say that me and my co-counselor were the best counselors he’d ever had in all his summers there. He then raced up the stairway leading up our tribe’s hill as I struggled to keep up with a suddenly strained heart.

Thomas Mark Zuniga at Camp Ridgecrest

And then in 2013, surrounded by brown Orange County hills, the foster kid assigned me said I had nothing to worry about. Why should I ever feel insecure or worthless about anything when I was so awesome? His words, not mine.

Thomas Mark Zuniga balloon shirt at Camp Gilligan

I was at a Seattle church last Sunday, and the main announcement was for summer camp. The hip youth pastor in skinny jeans and a v-neck said it was the last day for parents to register their kids.

They won’t want to miss out, he said.

It’s gonna be another awesome summer, he said.

Magic happens at camp, he said.

I think the All Star Game unfolding before my eyes put a visual cue to this whole intangible emotional ordeal. Ever since I saw the NL lose 5-3 the other night (bring back Charlie Manuel), I’ve been in a bit of a daze.

I wonder what my life would look like right now had I opted for another summer at camp rather than a summer on the road, day after day, week after wandering week.

I still follow all my former camps online. Keep up with their tweets and pictures and videos. I see all the counselors, all the kids, some familiar, some not, and I know by their faces that the magical moments are mounting as the summer hits halftime, and I feel altogether happy and sad.

Happy for them; devastated for me.

I have no sunny resolution. No “well, God will still do something special in my life this summer” sort of shtick.


Just so much to wonder as I wander.

Just a heavy heart as I feel like I’m not really accomplishing anything noteworthy right now.

Just a deep yearning for 7 A.M. bugles and cold showers or showerlessness altogether. Just a lake and a zip line and a dinner table for a dozen with no real agenda for the day or week or entire summer other than to laugh and love and live and realize that camp is a slice of the paradise to come.

The heaven slowly, surely coming to earth, one magical summer at a time.

  • Elizabeth Ewing

    Summer is magic, though camps help to point it out to kids. 😉 You know there are full-time careers in running camps, right? I know a few people who are now camp directors! They take their jobs very seriously, with a lot of smiles haha.

    Also, isn’t being fully present in the season of life you are in right now, in of itself noteworthy? Don’t count yourself out!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. Striving to be present every single day of this trip, though it can be difficult sometimes. Appreciate the reminder!