About eight years ago I decided that I wanted to be a camp counselor. Once. I was a freshman at Syracuse University at the time and assumed that I had one more summer to goof off until I had to get serious about my life. I interviewed at several camps, including Camp Pembroke, the camp I attended as a child. I had never heard of Surprise Lake Camp, but of the three camps that offered me a job, SLC offered me more money. That, at nineteen, was the deciding factor.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I was going to New York to play in the woods for nine weeks, then I’d return to my life. I never would have thought that Surprise Lake would change my life completely.
For those of you who know me well, you know my path in life can be described as pretty circuitous. I haven’t followed a typical route. I spent my time at Syracuse changing my major on a quarterly basis and being incredibly indecisive. I took time off from school, worked, did some soul searching, had several quarter life crises and transferred universities. At twenty six, when most of my friends are in grad schools, out of grad schools, looking for jobs, or getting jobs, I’m still finishing college. One thing has remained constant for me through it all, though, and that has been SLC.
Surprise Lake Camp has impacted every part of my life. My best friends in the world are people I met on my first day of orientation in 2006. I had been in camp for a few hours when I tried to inform Jess (who had been coming to camp for years already) where the dining hall was. I still remember the big plastic orange button earrings and white sundress that Michelle was wearing when she first traipsed into my life. I was sure we would not be getting along – she was just too out there. Eight years later I’m certain that I will be causing trouble with these girls at the nursing home well into my geriatric years.
I’m an only child. I don’t have a lot of aunts, uncles or cousins. I have two surviving grandparents of whom I don’t see nearly enough. My parents are wonderful, loving people who care for me deeply, but the appeal of having an extended family at camp is a big part of what has drawn me back year after year. When I return to SLC every summer and Sheryl, with a big hug, says to me “welcome home,” it’s true. Surprise Lake Camp is a very large, (often dysfunctional) completely eccentric, glorious family. The outpouring of love that we all have at camp for each other is euphoric. We all know that a bad day at camp is better than a good day anywhere else, and that is entirely because of the people who populate it.
In addition to giving me friends and family, Surprise Lake Camp has made me realize what I’m meant to be doing with my life. I need to work with kids. Over the past eight years I have had so many ups and downs and twists and turns it has made me dizzy at times. The most consistently satisfying challenge I have undertaken in all of that time has been working with my campers. They have taught me responsibility. They’ve taught me I can’t take myself too seriously – that I need to relax and have fun. They have taught me of the promise of youth and that I still have it and will have it for as long as I choose to hold on to it. They’ve shown me such myriad lenses through which to look at the world. Every individual camper that I’ve ever been able to call mine has demonstrated to me the uniqueness of themselves and in doing so the beauty of humanity as a whole.
The corniness of this is not lost on me. I just have so much love in my heart for SLC and all of the people in it that I find it hard to contain. This is the true power of Surprise Lake Camp. It’s what keeps us coming back summer after summer. It’s what keeps us begging for reunions on Facebook, posting count downs, prattling on and on to our friends and family at home who just don’t get it, because how could they? Camp is magic. Camp changes lives. It’s that simple.
To every past, present and future member of the SLC community, those of you I know well and those of you I don’t, I’d like to say thank you. I wouldn’t be who I am now heading in the direction I am without you. Keep in mind the impact that you have on the rest of us just by being a part of this rare breed known as SLCers. We all have a home with each other, and I guess the point of this week’s blog is that that’s pretty great.