A few moments ago, I was struck by a sudden feeling–some emotion that has to do, I think, with a reminder of how impermanent things tend to be. This impermanence, when I think about it, is usually disconcerting, but it really isn’t a bad thing, any more than the wind blowing or the sun rising can be “bad” things. All of those things just…are. All of those things just happen as they will.
These reminders happen a lot and are prompted by all manners of events, but right now, at this rather early hour of the morning, the reason I was suddenly and strikingly reminded of how quickly things change is because it’s that time of year, when prospective counselors begin to find out if their applications have been accepted for Chinese Summer Camp–finding out which “lucky” (this point may in retrospect be debatable) 8 college-age applicants are chosen to lead groups of mostly boisterous boys and generally garrulous girls for a week of sleepaway camp in the wild woods of upstate New York. So with regards to this process, an old camp friend of mine who’s been a fellow counselor for years just notified me that she had decided she wasn’t going to come back to camp this year, and since she’s my age (junior becoming senior in college), that might also mean that she’s not going back any more. And I thought, “and so it begins.”
Let me start here by saying that despite the years we’ve both been in camp, I can’t claim to really know this friend too well. I think we weren’t so much friends as we were acquaintences or colleagues, if you will, until CSC2007. But this friend–let’s call her Susana–has been a most solid counselor for the girls of A-Bunk (the youngest group of campers, ages ~7~10) for a few years. These past few years, I’ve been assigned as counselor for A-Bunk boys, and so Susana as the female A-Bunk counselor has been my A-Bunk counterpart. Early in the mornings, we would lead our bunks to exercises, line them up for breakfast, take them from class to class. We of all the other counselor pairs (bunks A through D) tended to exhaust our voices the fastest–Susana because she needed no prompting to raise her voice at her bunk or any others, and I because despite my best efforts to the contrary, I would raise my voice enough during the first day to be hoarse for the next one. We, of all the other counselors, tended to need to mother or babysit our bunks the most, which given the ages of the children we watched over is understandable. And we, of all the counselors, probably got the most gray hairs trying to convince our kids to do things as supposedly simple as taking a shower.
I don’t intend for the above to be interpreted as either complaining or boasting–it’s just an attempt to illustrate some of the responsibilities that we tacitly agreed to taking on when we applied for the position. Now that Susana has decided that this year she’s going to leave the A-bunk girls under someone else’s care, well…I wonder. No doubt the adults responsible for assigning counselors will pick someone they believe will be able to deal with the handful that is A-bunk girls (there were some hard-to-handle ones in last year’s batch). But regardless of the ‘replacement’ counselor (I say ‘replacement’ because Susana has been A-Girls counselor a few years running), camp will go on.
I feel a bit guilty in that I’m not more disappointed that Susana won’t be attending camp this year. But I just feel a bit of curiousity as to who my new counterpart will be. I’m sorry that the camp will be losing such a capable counselor, worried as to whether the ‘replacement’ will be able to fill her predecessor’s shoes, and above all curious as to what will happen. That curiousity, I think, is a large part of what draws me back to camp, what prompts me to apply yet again for a position with no small amount of responsibility and not an impressive amount of monetary compensation. I chose my words carefully in that last sentence because for me, at least, not all of the compensation for the job is monetary. There’s that charm of helping to run something larger than yourself, of being not just any gear, but a somewhat important one that the entire CSC machine needs in order to run well. I think the biggest compensation comes in the form of potential memories to be made and potential experiences to be had. Sure, a counselor might just fulfill their exact job descriptions and nothing more, but that poor hypothetical counselor would probably miss out on so many things and so many chances. Chances to, say, stargaze and watch for meteor showers in a beautiful, clear night sky. Or chances to enjoy the solitude that being in such wilderness can grant. Or even chances to frolic carelessly in knee-high weeds teeming with all manners of multi-legged critters. All those memories and more, a person might take away from a week well-spent at Chinese Summer Camp.
As the days of the summer pass quickly by and the start of CSC 2009 approaches, all I can expect is that there are bound to be all manners of surprises, pleasant and otherwise, that come up during that one week. But having been a counselor more than once, I would say that hostile extraterrestrial invasion aside, we’ll hopefully be able to manage. When I, too, decide that I’m no longer returning to camp, I won’t need to think twice, because there will be others at least as capable as I stepping up to fill the gap. Whatever happens, camp will go on. And come what may during that one unpredictable week, I’ll enjoy every moment until the last time I leave, because really…that’s how life should be lived.
I’ll be forever grateful to those who’ve taught me that.