It takes guts to write about camp and what it has meant to me, because I abhor sentiment and cliché. To me, they are the marks of a lazy writer who lacks the tools or the will to say something original and effective. So what do I do, then, when I recognize that at last I must express what camp has meant to me since I first came here only two days after my arrival in this world? It has become my world, camp has, a place for which I bide my time until I can return. I am a teacher when away from here, and I am good at it. I love to teach, but I am not afraid to admit that I chose it as a career, as much as anything, because it allows me to return here every summer and enjoy the benefits of immersion into a community based on love, friendship, trust, and the simple idea that having fun is a worthy goal.
I was here as a young child but then spent several summers elsewhere. When I returned as a young adult, I had grown older but not up. The responsibilities given to me here, and the implicit trust accompanying it, allowed me to become a person I liked, and the friendships that I have developed assured me of my worth as a person. As I grew up, I grew into myself, and I never lost sight of the idea that this special place was the reason I had become who I was. But that was what camp was, a place for me to be what I wanted, and that's why it was wonderful.
I got sick in the summer of 2002, and camp became a place where I could be what I needed to be. I needed to be strong, and to have courage, and to believe that I would be okay, and for those things there is nothing more effective than being surrounded by five hundred friends. The word family is used a lot to describe this place, but you need to believe me when I say that there is no better word to describe what this community meant to me when I was sick.
The most important thing I have learned about camp is something that applies to everyone here. For a long time, I took for granted that camp was a place where I could be comfortable trying new things. I learned to sail here and to water-ski. I learned rifle marksmanship, and I learned how not to fear diving off a dock. There was satisfaction and exhilaration at every step. I also learned how to be comfortable around other people and, as I said, to be comfortable in my own skin, but all these accomplishments were things that just happened, without my noticing or putting much effort in. After I lost my foot, I had to learn a lot of these things again, but this time it wasn't something that happened without my noticing. For a while, I thought I had lost a part of me that I would miss forever and would mourn the loss of for the rest of my life.
But time has passed, I have skied and golfed and sailed and swum, I have grown at ease around friends and strangers, and I have come to realize I have not lost anything that could not be replaced with love and trust and friendship and fun. Camp has allowed me to become what I am, again, and all I ask is that others seek one tenth of that reward for themselves. Revel in camp when you are here, dream about it while away, and always remember how important each of you is to everyone else in this special place. "Imagine us here, and here we are."
Brian Lutes is a high school teacher in Middleboro, Massachusetts, and a staff member at the Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC). He has been a rider in the Pan Mass Challenges for the past three years. He rides with a team from CCSC each summer to raise money for cancer research and to include the CCSC campers in a worthwhile community service experience.
Originally published in the 2006 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.