This week we welcomed summer campers in for the last time in 2012. We opened the doors Sunday evening to an Elementary Camp, Junior High Camp, and a Watersports camp, with a camp Peace coming in the following day. The combination of Elementary and Junior High in one week, seems appealing, we assume because parents can bring younger and older siblings to the same week. Whether that is true or not, there is something appealing, because this week easily brought some of our most difficult parking lot work. The parking lot for the Conference Center filled quickly, and then we had to move to parking people on the side of the hill. Cars waited in line for spots to open up, and as we filled up more, we had to direct the traffic going in and out to prevent huge logjams that would go all the way out into the highway.
More and more during the weekly parking lot duties, I notice staff members from years passed who are now bringing their children to camp. There are staff member I worked with during the summers and staff members who I remember from my days as a camper. It is interesting to sees these people as parents, especially since most of my memories for many of them are much more care-free college students, like our current staff. To see them pull up in a mini-van and tug their 10 year old along the parking lot and ask if they have their allergy medicine and pillow pet is quite different from that person you looked at with celebrity status as a shy 13 year old who could barely talk to girls your own age, much less people as cool as these, who seemed to know all the answers and have it all together. Now I realize that staff members certainly do not have it all together, that I still don’t, and that none of us likely ever will the way I thought they did in my younger days. I am humbled and proud that they bring them back and trust us with their own flesh and blood.
The last week of the summer, just like any time you realize the end of something is nearing, there is a great temptation to make note of all the “last things,” you do. The parking lot duties I just mentioned were, in fact, our last parking lot of the summer. This would be the last time we had a Tuesday morning canteen this summer. This can get ridiculous if you let it. You start to note your last Thursday shower of the summer or the last time you will tell a camper when swimming is on a Wednesday. There is a sadness that has been sneaking up for several weeks now, as the end approaches, because you know it will be sad to leave. Knowing this, you put off thinking about it, and then you are standing in line at canteen on a Thursday afternoon and it hits you that next Thursday afternoon you won’t be standing in this canteen line like you have been the last 8 weeks. Then the floodgates open.
This happens for many things. It may happen on your vacation, when you realize you have to go back to work the next day. It could happen at the end of the Olympics, when you realize you won’t be able to turn on the TV at any point in a given day and find sporting events, 24/7, that are only interesting to you once every four years. You’ll miss this thing that, recently, has become such a pleasant routine. It has given you joy. It has stretched you a bit. You have formed relationships. You have grown. But, it cannot last forever. And, you knew this from the beginning. You just hadn’t really let it enter your mind until now. And, now, it is all you can think about.
We see it happen every week of camp. Some get it as early as Thursday night. In a moment you realize you will be going home and you are not ready to leave these experience and people that have made for such and exciting and meaningful time. This comes to a head at one of the nightly worships. When I was a camper, there was a song, “Friends are Friends Forever,” by Michael W. Smith that became very popular to play on those last nights of the camp week. The song was from a musical era when Christian Music was just starting to establish itself as a musical genre. I will do my best to describe this song without stepping on the toes of its admirers. This song seemed to be written for the purpose of playing on the last night of camp. The words to the chorus go:
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
But, the words alone do not do justice to the experience of hearing this song. The music is slow and builds from a quiet, sad sound to a louder, more powerful sadness that, though sad, is reassured by its own words. This song was produced in the 80s, and, therefore, has the cheesy synthesized keyboard production value, you’re guaranteed to hear even with secular songs that are out to make and important emotional point. To say the song is a bit heavy-handed would be quite the understatement.
My early memories of the last night of camp, consist of lots of tears and tissues with people swaying together, arms over shoulders standing in a line. And, “Friends are Friends Forever,” is the soundtrack to those memories. About 20 years have come and gone, and much has changed. The production value of music, in particular Christian music, is better. Mr. Michael W. Smith has done far better work than “Friends are Friends Forever.” Our staff and counselors play music that is sometimes equally cheesy, just done in a music style that fits our current listening tastes. But, we all still have these moments, where it hits us how special the experience has been. In that moment, we just want to put our arms over the person next to us and sway.
When these moments happen, I always hope that they are genuine. It is kind of sad when we try to manufacture special moments when we realize our time is limited. When on the family vacation we try to make something special out of what is not. When the counselor tries to get the kids to stay up and do the arms-over-the-shoulder-sway to “Friends are Friends Forever,” even though the campers just want to sleep. You can make a special moment happen, but you cannot force it to happen. That is what I try to warm our staff about in these moments. That they have been making special moments happen all summer long–there’s no need to force it. They will come on their own.
At the end of this week, after the last car had pulled out of our last parking lot with our last camper of the summer, some of the staff gathered downstairs in the Conference Center, and we did a worship to mark the moment. We sat in a circle and I had them recall moments from their summer. I read them the scriptures they had heard in lessons all summer long. In the background, I played a the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” this version by Sufjan Stevens, to give us some background noise. We finished this time of remembrance of our joy and frustration, some of the faces that have stayed with us, and the lessons we’d learned. The song was not finished, so I let it play out. It ended by going back to the first verse, and, without prompt, I heard the beautiful voices of our staff, whispering the words to this old hymn, steadily growing louder:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
I looked around, not thinking of how we would all soon go home to something different, but of how thankful I was to have shared and be sharing these moments with them.