My name is Bill. About 20 years ago I took my first steps across Camp El Tesoro’s lovely swinging bridge. Although at the time it felt like I was crossing a grand expanse on a thin swinging rope. Anxious, excited, and filled with wonder, I weathered that adventure to start my first day of camp. Unaware it would set me on a path that, much like the trails at our extraordinary camp, would shape me into the person I am today.
Each time I cross the bridge, I get the same feelings – a mix of nerves and excitement. Nowadays, I cross that bridge with about 10 other people, so it still feels like a wild rollercoaster. Yet every single time I make that crossing, I think of my nerves and excitement but have come to realize my feelings are no longer centered on my experience at camp. Rather they are focused on others – my campers, students, prospective rental clients, or parents. Are they going to engage with this experience in the same way that I did as a young boy? Are they going to embark on a similar journey as I did? For most it remains a fun trip full of exploration and education. For myself it became a place of self-expression, a place for personal growth, a place to form genuine lasting relationships, and above all a place I feel at home, at peace. My love for camp is deeply rooted in the relationships I have formed along the way.
As much as camp is the canoeing, the ropes course, horsemanship, archery, smores, hiking, and arts and crafts, it is so much more. Camp taught me, often times the hard way, how to improvise, how to problem solve, effective communication with peers, supervisors, and youth. I have learned so much of what it is to be a productive adult through my experience at camp. From rain that forces you into plan b, or a camper who doesn’t like plan b and forces you to plan c, to differences in income brackets and social circles, being a camp counselor requires you to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Working long days, and hard days, camp becomes a truly transformative process.
Now entering my 20th summer, I will again be entering camp as a first timer. This time, beginning my career as Camp Director. I have spent my summers as a camper, Counselor-in-Training, Counselor, Challenge Course Coordinator, and Assistant Director. I will once again be crossing the bridge this summer filled with concern.
Did I hire enough staff? Did I hire the right staff? Do we have the best programming in place? Are we ready for 1000 campers this summer?
I am also filled with excitement.
I can’t wait to share this place with 50 new staff and over 1,000 campers. I look forward to the dances, the camps songs at chapel. I am ready to change the lives of everyone who crosses the bridge. I am also filled with wonder. This place has so much to offer everyone who comes to camp, I am hopeful everyone coming across the bridge will open their eyes to it. Take in all Camp El Tesoro has to offer.
I find that a lot of my camp experience is anchored by the swinging bridge. Someone once described the bridge as a fun but unremarkable foot note in the camp experience. I disagree. I think the bridge serves as metaphor for our passage into a world unlike any other.
I am glad it is unsteady, silly, and sometimes even scary. I can’t think of a better commentary on the camp experience. In the beginning you are unsure of its security. You worry if it will fall, or if you will fail. You worry if maybe this was too much too fast. But after a few steps those feelings start to wane. You realize the bridge will hold you up, you will not fall. You will not fail. However, as you reach the middle of the bridge you start to feel the swing. That uncertainty and fear creeps back in, however you can’t help but smile. You can’t help but laugh. In the unsteadiness we turn to those around us for support. And there is comfort in seeing others around you dealing with the same swinging bridge. You learn quickly in several short moments, to cope with uncertainty, and anxiety with laughter and a smile. And much like the beginning of your crossing, the end extends a familiar stability and structure. Gone are the swings, and anxiety. However, the smiles and the laughs remain. You finish crossing the bridge feeling triumphant and confident. As a kid I knew it was just the beginning of the week, but as I cross the bridge now, I carry with me all the lessons and skills I’ve learned at camp. I feel as though no matter what I will be able to handle any new experience, or challenge. Above all, I know that those around me both need my help and are willing to help me.