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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This is the place where I am most wanted...

I first worked at EWALU back in the summer of 1993, motivated as much by the fact that I needed a summer job as by any deep commitment to the place. I'd been a camper for four summers and had some fine times (including, but certainly not limited to, an opportunity to co-referee the 1990 Grand International Trans-Global Canoe Race Extravaganza), but never seriously envisioned myself as a future counselor. I assumed my college summers would be much like my high school ones; late nights at the park across the street, the occasional evening of role-playing games in Kyle's basement, wistfully remembering the days when Silkworm could still be found in arcades. Immensely nerd-ish stuff, I'll concede, but I had the sort of group of friends that made it entirely worth missing at college. And miss it I did; my freshman year at Wartburg was at best worth a "meh."

During the spring of the aforementioned freshman year I started thinking about summer job options. Hy-Vee seemed like the most logical course - most of my friends worked there and didn't seem to fiercely hate it - but I found it impossible to get excited about that prospect. So I found myself stopping by the EWALU booth on Work At Camp Day in Buhr Lounge one February afternoon and filling out an application. And coming back later to interview (which I apparently did a horrific job of - I was very much a "We need more male counselors" hire that first year) and signing a contract when they sent me one. I still wasn't sure about the idea of being a counselor, but I never got around to pursuing any other options, so Memorial Day weekend found my dad and I on the way to Strawberry Point, he excited about his boy following in his footsteps as EWALU staff and me terrified and wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I clearly recall telling him I'd changed my mind as he slowed to turn off of Highway 3. No thanks, I'll work at Hy-Vee after all, this was a mistake, Dad. Thankfully, he was wiser than I and ignored me entirely.

I'm aware it's sort of melodramatic to say that summer was life-changing, but I stand by it nonetheless. EWALU was the first place I felt like I fit in, like I was contributing and doing the things I was supposed to do well. And those things were vastly important - I was ministering to kids, helping create a safe, fun environment, contributing to a team and being part of a community. I'd be surprised if I was actually all that good at the job that first summer (certainly I didn't fit all that well into the staff, socially) - I still needed to absorb much of what I was learning - but a tremendous amount of who I am today is built on a foundation laid that summer.

I spent six summers at camp and while they were never again nearly that life-changing (thankfully; that would have gotten exhausting) they comprised 63 of the best weeks of my life. In 1999 not being there felt like walking around sans an arm. Except that I could still clap. Over the years it got less jarring to spend summers not at camp, but I'd always get a bit wistful around Memorial Day weekend. Still, I'd had six summers - more than most people get - and I wasn't in college anymore. I didn't think about it much. Until two springs ago, when my friend Adrian decided I should come back for one more summer. He needed a health officer and was convinced I was the man for the job. It was flattering, and I was vastly tempted, but I decided to do the responsible thing and pass. I spent a week at camp as a volunteer ("camp grandpa") instead, and drove up for several other random weeknights to spend time with the staff. And I found myself getting hooked again.

I found myself back in the midst of a group of friendly, excited, Christian people who were eager to include me in their community and willing to let me be part of their experience. I got to play campfire guitar again, got to hike around woody trails again, got to be part of some of the inside jokes and watch some of the triumphs again. It was fantastic; more recharging than I could have imagined. And I was fairly burned out at both of my real-world jobs - the recharging was entirely welcome.

That fall my friend Jesse was hired as the Program Director and he immediately started petitioning me to come back for another summer. And, fresh on the heels of a summer of being sort of on staff I was much more receptive to the idea than I had been the year before. So I started making sure my finances were in order enough to make it feasible and signed a contract for summer number seven. And, of course, immediately started worrying. Would it be weird to be the old guy? Was I looking at my old summers through rose-colored glasses and creating a standard that couldn't possibly be met? Could I really afford it?

All of which fears were, of course, groundless. Camp, I'm pleased to report, is every bit as fantastic as camp ever was. More so, even, now that I'm older and more aware of my weaknesses and strengths and especially more so now that I'm comparing it with the real world instead of with Wartburg. It was recharging and empowering and exhilarating and every bit as downright dandy as it had ever been. I wish I was still there. I hope I have another summer in me somewhere down the road. If not, I'll settle for the occasional retreat (two coming up in October!) or work day (one coming up tomorrow! First time back at camp since the summer ended! Yay!); one takes what one can get, I guess.

It did pretty much kill off blogging, didn't it? Sorry about that, any of you who might have noticed. I continue to stand by my 12 posts for 2006 goal; we'll see what happens.

This is the place where I am most wanted,
Where everything I am comes from
--"Boulder River," Chris Cunningham/John Hermanson

I find it somewhat surprising that the photo you chose to include with this post is of the Creation Center... It must have grown on you over the past summer.
Yeah, it certainly did. Since I was Mr. Canteen Guy I was in it for at least three hours every day - it ended up being a pretty big part of my summer.

Plus, I really like that picture.
Interesting. I think summer camp is one of those jobs where is near perfection is a result of its seasonality. If it became a year round occupation it would lose much of the appeal you speak of. Perhaps we should all have careers that suck for 9 months a year and then bask in the enthusiastic harmony that is summer camp.
Well said!
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