Friday, March 14, 2014

Lessons from Summer Camp

The last time I had lived out of a foot locker was at Camp DeSoto in the 1960s; I was not sure I was up to the task in my fifties. But camp teaches us much about simplicity and unplugging from daily life, and given the chance later in life, I took it.

In times of stress we turn to what we know first: cover the basics. In this culture the lines blur too often. How do we learn to simplify in a world of excess? What sustains us, and what siphons our energy drawing us into an outward spiral? Two experiences remind me of the basics.

Five summers ago I lived about five weeks in an unpainted cabin on the edge of the woods. Home was a 10x12 foot space with one twin bed, two 60 watt bare bulbs and an unlocked door. To say woods is stretching it a bit. I was serving a camp of hundreds of girls in North Carolina, yet I lived alone and experienced a joy of simplicity I had forgotten in my adulthood. The windows held a box fan and stayed open offering night noises at dusk and mountain mist in the morning. Perhaps they might have closed; I just never tried. 

No TV. No A.C. No laptop. No kitchen. Spotty phone coverage. Taps at 9:30 p.m. Some have said, “That sounds dreadful. I could never give up all the comforts of home.” 

But how often do adults get to hear a bugle close the day in the pitch dark and drift off to sleep with a distant train whistle riding the air? When do grownups experience having all meals prepared and served—with a side order of girls singing time-honored songs? When can we actually be excused from work and home responsibilities for a job that can only be called camp? I knew the season was a gift and would never come again.

It helped that this job allowed me to spend that summer near three family members who were also on staff. My job was to support the camp directors through daily small tasks as they took seriously the trust of receiving daughters for the summer. In return, I had the chance to recalibrate and gleaned life lessons on simplicity:

        I experienced bounty rather than deprivation. Less really is more.

        I gave priority to prayer and reading. Our priorities always will be a choice, no matter the distractions. Choose wisely.

        I did not miss the harsh nightly TV battles with words masquerading as news, and I determined not to let it encroach upon my life when I returned home. Jettison the media debris that crowds our calendar and clouds our focus.

        There is great value in being a part of a community or a family where we are known and loved. Cherish it.

I must add that one thing that makes embracing simplicity joyful -- palatable even, for the novice that I am -- is having the choice to do so.  I recognize that. Many in this world's population live in  conditions that should not be romantically labeled 'simplicity': abject poverty would be appropriate. That was surely not my experience.

A second experience occurred recently while giving care for a friend at a cancer center. I learned that when we nurture, serve and offer a peaceful setting for renewing a body under physical stress some of that comes back to us as caregivers and convicts that we need to take our own advice. These lessons are embarrassingly elementary to write, but are more challenging to implement. 

Get plenty of rest.
Exercise daily.
Drink lots of water.
          Eat well.
Stay actively engaged in things worthwhile.
Spend time in thoughtful prayer and meditation.
Go to sleep early enough to greet the day well-rested.

Haven't we heard all of that that somewhere before? 

In meeting the needs of others, I found that my own were met abundantly. “For it is in giving that we receive,” comes to mind from the Prayer of St. Francis.

Yet there are those times when the demands placed upon us exceed our personal supply. Our finite resources are inadequate to do the job. We need to know where to turn where there is grace enough and strength enough to keep going when we are out of steam. We need to ask for help. Getting help is one of the basics as well.

We hear the word to the wise resounding through the years: Choose wisely.

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."  Deut. 31:8