A Camp Counselor's Work: Saving and Savoring the World

*This is an excerpt from a talk I gave on revelry. I wrote it to be read aloud. So if you know me, please try to “hear” my voice and put the proper inflection and tone in as you read. If you don’t know me- WOW! Thanks for finding and reading this random blog! Please try to “hear” it in any voice you like best! 

…We cannot forget to revel in the midst of our work- because there is always work to do.  We needn’t wait to have “vacations” or ‘nights off” to revel and be joyful.

EB White in a New York Times interview in 1969 said,

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.
— EB White

And if not first, then simultaneously. Maybe the trick is to learn to do both at once- save and savor.

My 11 year old and her friend went to camp last week. They had a fantastic time, and I know they had experiences and learned things that will stay with them for a lifetime. And as I looked at the young camp staff in charge of their care, I was reminded of the best 3 summers of my life- when I worked at a Camp Otterbein in Ohio. 

Camp life is a magical place where for 10 weeks the rest of the world fades away. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret now. Something I knew to be true at the camp I worked, and after spending a little time looking at camp counselors' blogs this week, I’m now pretty certain it’s a universal secret among camp staffs. 

Here it is: The primary goal of the entire staff is to have a good time. Not make sure the kids have a good time. I mean our primary goal was to make sure WE had a good time. The primary goal. Sure we cared about the kids, sure we wanted them to be safe and have a good time, sure we wanted them to learn things, but I promise you our number one focus was on having fun ourselves with the other camp counselors. We lived for the 24 hours every week when the camp was free of the campers and it became our personal playground. 

When the campers were there, they were at best an audience for us and at worst a prop. It was like camp life was some magical place where the goal really was to revel in life. And it had a sort of fake it till you make it atmosphere. For example if it rained, we didn't want unhappy campers (because that would make us unhappy) so we acted like the rain was awesome, and so it was. 

Before I worked at Camp Otterbein, I attended that camp every summer for 8 years. As a camper my life was changed, and I learned so many things that have stayed with me to this day. However, having worked on staff later with two of my favorite counselors, I can assure you changing my life was not their primary concern. Or even a main concern. And that’s ok.

As 16-year-old camper. Me on bottom left. Favorite counselor in middle top row.

As 16-year-old camper. Me on bottom left. Favorite counselor in middle top row.

On staff together a few summers later. 

On staff together a few summers later. 

As counselors, our goal was not to change young lives, although I am sure we did, because we were in a position to do so. We were working in a place where we had the opportunity to do good work, with specific confines to operate in, and so we did good work and had the best times of our lives. 

I’m sure if you gathered any like-minded group of 18-24 year olds to work together 24/7, one of their primary goals would be to have a great time. If they are gathered together to work on selling time-shares, that good time will manifest differently than it will in a church camp setting. My point is we didn’t have to stress about or worry if we were making a difference in the world. Our choice to work there already put us in a place to make a difference. So we just kicked back and enjoyed every minute of it. We saved and we savored.

I used to look back with awe at my time at camp. I thought I loved it so much because we were all young and energetic with a great job living in an amazing place. And that’s all part of it. But when I play with my kids for fun and not out of duty, then I touch on that feeling again. So maybe it wasn't about who we were then or where we were, but what we expected from life and our jobs in those moments in that time. Maybe it was so magical just because our primary goal was simply to revel in life and to enjoy the people around us. 

Now one important reason having fun could be our main goal was that we didn’t have to worry about bills, food, shelter, or anything really from the outside world. Like I said, the outside world melted away. 

And so I know as adults in the real world, we can’t just forget all our responsibilities and become self-serving people only concerned with having a good time. At least not completely. But I do think sometimes we could move the goal of having fun, of participating in revelry, even as we work, up to the top of our list and see what happens. 

...Where could you practice saving and savoring? Here is my prayer for you- may you enjoy the dish you brought to the potluck you planned, may you feel awe at a work day as you dig in the dirt and notice the ground below you, may you laugh uncontrollably during the class you lead, may you feel the full warmth of community as you march for justice, may you be filled up with the joy of doing good work in a committee meeting, may you get chills at how beautiful the music is coming from the choir you are singing with, may you revel in the parties you plan and help with- the fundraisers and the holidays, and may you always find a way to step back from the work of saving the world as you are doing it just long enough to savor the world around you. May you replenish your spirit with revelry. Everyday.