July 9, 2018
Each February, we have a retreat for our high school campers. The retreat is partly about goal-setting and partly like an emotional booster shot for them.
During the most recent retreat, we decided to ask them to share their favorite memories from camp. Many of them had been with us over 6 years, so I was intrigued to hear what they said. Would they talk about recent events or experiences from their first summers? Would they focus on big events or small moments?
There was no pattern regarding timing – some campers talked about events that happened 7 years earlier while others mentioned memories from the previous summer. Some mentioned counselors while others focused on friends.
There, however, was an unexpected similarity. Virtually no one mentioned an activity or a planned event. At first, my feelings were a little hurt. After all, we spend hundreds of hours planning for special events. We buy tons of equipment (from boats to go carts to inflatables) to make camp awesome. We build structures and make lesson plans for activities.
With all the effort, I wanted to hear people rave about the Pirate Ship or the Hearth (the Arts Center) or the Waterfront.
As I was thinking about this, an insightful 17 year-old assuaged my concerns, “Steve Sir, we love camp and we adore the activities. But we expect them. Haven’t you noticed the theme of the ‘favorite memories’? They are all spontaneous or unplanned.”
She was right. Campers described laying at the sailpoint late at night, looking at the stars and talking about life. They recalled an unexpected “raid” of the slushee machine. Some mentioned inside jokes that resulted from unexpected moments. For example, one girl surprised a duck before a morning jog. Neither female nor fowl was expecting the encounter, resulting in mutual yelps that continue to amuse her cabinmates to this day. [Note: no, I am not certain that duck yelp, but I like the word choice.]
Two of the high schoolers talked about rainy day memories. One talked about a fort-building competition. The other reminisced about a spontaneous slip-and-slide party. When I asked about the slip-and-slide, the camper lit up and talked about playing and laughing in the rain. For him, rain had always meant the end of fun – but suddenly campers of all ages were having a better time than ever doing an activity that had occurred to no one 10 minutes before. “I did not come to camp thinking ‘I sure hope I can slide on a long tarp’, but it was a blast. I love that we found fun rather than frustration.”
Today we had rain, but no lightning, so it was time to break out the slip-and-slides as well as some baby pools, rain soccer and even wet pickleball.
So we will continue to plan and buy and build, but I will strive to remember that the best moments are often spontaneous.