This past Saturday, I went to summer camp! Now, for those of you who have known me for a long time, you know that my heart belongs to Camp Onas, which is the camp that I attended from 1990 to 2001, first as a camper, then as a counselor, then as head of the Boys’ Side. Well, this weekend I cheated on Camp Onas (I’m sorry!) and attended the 50th anniversary celebration at Camp Timber Tops where my wife, Laura, and her sister, Katie, spent many summers as campers and counselors.
I went into the experience pretty skeptical. After all, entering a rival camp is tantamount to crossing enemy lines during a heated battle – you just don’t do it. Setting foot on another camp’s property should only be done late at night, shaving cream in hand, so that one can properly mark his territory and ensure that everyone wakes up knowing that ‘I Was Here.’ Well, that didn’t happen. Mostly because we didn’t end up staying over, but also because, well, I actually had an amazing time.
You hear this a lot and it’s absolutely true – there are two kinds of people in this world: those who went to summer camp and those who did not. Throughout my post-camp life, I have connected with so many amazing people around shared experiences related to my years as a camper and as a a counselor. It always seems to happen at the oddest times, but the stories start flying, the memories pour out and there’s an instant connection that can sometimes change the course of your day or, in some cases, changes the course of your life.
At Saturday’s closing campfire, we heard from Ted Weinstein (‘Uncle Ted’), longtime camp director at Timber Tops. Ted addressed the crowd with a speech that was simply beautiful. He talked about how you can come back years later to the camp where you spent your childhood and at first look it might appear totally different – new structures, a bigger pool, taller trees and different faces. But camp is not about facilities or structures or about the new roof on the barn – camp is about family, love, acceptance, creativity, tradition, spirit and togetherness, things that are sorely lacking in the world around us. Ted said:
This became my dream. I wanted children at camp to become a family who loved each other, who included each other and who learned to take care of the feelings of each other. My dream was that children took what they learned at camp home with them to their families, schools, communities…So this is my dream for all of you. I hope that your kids and your grandchildren and their kids will have the opportunity to experience what you have at camp. I hope that all of you will take care of each other and help to change the world one person at a time.
I can honestly say that I am who I am today because of my experiences at summer camp. Everything that I do – every call, every meeting, every interaction, I take with me the lessons that I learned when I was a young kid in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. I lead with humor and with humility and I try to treat every individual with kindness. I care deeply about rich, personal relationships and whenever possible, I try to infuse comedy, banter, levity and song into situations where they aren’t present. I connect instantly with people who ‘get it’ and who show that they have inside of them those kernels of creativity that we all once had in childhood and who many feel they have lost along the way. This may seem odd, after all, I’m 31 year old and haven’t been to camp in over a decade, but it’s the way I operate and it has informed my outlook, my attitude and my approach to life. When I forget this or get wrapped up in the daily grind of life, I have to step back and remind myself – sometimes all it takes is the right song popping up in the rotation on my iPhone or hearing someone humming a tune on the subway.
This blog post is born out of nostalgia, but I also write it in the hopes that everyone who reads it will take some time to think back to a time when they approached life with a child’s point-of-view – when we explored, dreamed and when our focus was connecting with others. We all must continue to live our lives as adults in 2012 – there’s money to make, bills to pay and projects to complete. However, if everyone brought with them the confidence, kindness and spirited approach that we learned at summer camp, I truly believe the world would be a better place.
Right now, all over the world, there are millions of little kids getting ready to fall asleep after a busy, dirty, crazy, fun day at camp. It’s amazing to think about this as I sit in my apartment in Brooklyn, next to my wife and my fully adult existence. However, it’s even more amazing to think that just a few days ago, I sat around a campfire with hundreds of people of all ages – many who grew up together, some who had never met and a large number of husbands who were just along for the ride – and we sang songs and we held hands and for a moment, we were all kids again. That doesn’t happen a lot in the real world, but no matter how old you are or how long it’s been since you slept under the stars, there’s comfort in knowing that you can always go home to camp.