The beginning of the end

Greetings from Hilltop. It never ceases to amaze me how Camp warps a person’s sense of time. I wrote to you a week ago about how we were so firmly in the middle of the session, how Camp felt like a ball hanging in the air, going neither up nor down. The last week feels like a blink. I keep having to remind myself that it’s a Sunday. And now, a week/blink later, Camp is clearly on the path towards our parting of ways. At our staff meeting last night, I reminded the staff that the campers leave a week from today, and there was an audible gasp. It sneaks up on us.

We’re starting what I think of as the “parade of lasts.” Our last Sunday Assembly, our last nighttime staff meeting, the last item checked off a cabin’s bucket list. Because our Assistant Counselors are all starting college this fall, a few of them have to leave camp early to be at orientation, and our first one left this morning. The cabin of campers I sat with this morning at breakfast was listing off all the gypsy jewelry ceremonies they need to attend over the next few days. The Seniors return from their trips the day after tomorrow. We’ll have Age Group Night the night they return, and then the next day we’ll begin the series of four evening activities that end every four-week session here at Four Winds.

It’s easy to lament the end of Camp. Many campers and staff feel genuine loss at the end of their summer. Today’s topic at Sunday Assembly was friendship, and a camper stood up to say that at Camp, she’s able to be herself and her friends embrace her for that, whereas at school, she feels that she has to act in an unnatural way to be accepted. Many of our campers and staff feel some version of that, and once you’ve had a taste of not having to fake it all the time, the place that allows you to do that becomes precious. To lose it for 11 months or in some cases, for an unknown period, maybe forever, can feel very sad indeed.

When I encounter that sadness in campers and staff at the end of the session, I like to say three things. First, I tell them to embrace their feelings and feel them fully. We spend too much time trying to stop ourselves from feeling our emotions, and it’s good to lean into them sometimes, even when those feelings are hard. Second, I ask them to remember that they wouldn’t be sad about the end of Camp if Camp hadn’t been extraordinary. If Camp were tedious or disagreeable, there would be no point to being sad at the end of it. So, amid the sadness, I ask them to think about what made Camp worth being sad over. Lastly, and this is the bit they want to hear the least, I tell them there are things they learned here that they can apply in the world outside of Camp. For many of them, that doesn’t feel true yet. It feels that they can only feel this way here. But the lessons they’ve learned here will stay with them nonetheless.

The vibe of Camp is changing distinctly. We’re moving from the middle to the end, and with that are many bittersweet moments. But we’re not done yet. Lots of people with many Four Winds summers under their belts, myself included, consider the last week to be the best of the session. There will be many moments of pure fun, many moments of celebration and reflection, and yes, some moments of sadness too. We’ll embrace all of it, and squeeze every last moment of fun, friendship, tradition, and community out of this last week.

People often refer to Camp as magic. If you’ve been reading my blogs a while, you may know that I struggle with that. I know what those people are trying to express. Camp can bring such warm feelings, such connection, that it feels magical. But, there is nothing supernatural about what happens here. The reason that the last week of Camp feels more magical than any other is the power of 300 people coming together and valuing our time together just a little more. It may not be magical, but it is rare, and we’re treasure every moment.

Thank you for sharing your children with us. I’ll post here again after the campers are on their way next Sunday. Until then, be sure to follow our updates on Twitter.