“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” 
–Albert Camus (1946)

Tom Rosenberg

I’ve always appreciated this quote from the French philosopher and author Albert Camus. It always brings me back to summers at camp as a child and later as a staff member. On one level, it simply speaks to some of the most joyous, exciting, and inspiring days of my youth. On another level, it speaks to the character lessons I learned safely at camp while having fun, taking positive risks, making mistakes, and pushing my comfort zones. Courage, confidence, and perseverance were etched into me through a repetition of challenging experiences, reflection, confronting my vulnerabilities, and engaging in intentional camp community.

In my first summer as a camper, our counselors explained to us that if we wanted to have a happy and thriving group, we all had to give more of ourselves to the group than we expected to receive in turn. We all wanted to belong and to develop strong friendships. We learned so much about ourselves and each other that summer. I was drawn to my good friends’ habits and traits — such as Larry, who was always so helpful and kind to everyone. In contrast, I was perhaps put off by some habits of others with whom I didn’t easily connect. That summer we all saw each other at our best and at our worst. We all told (or perhaps argued with) each other when we were wrong and what was right. I learned to stand up for my ideas and support the different ideas of others. We had more fun when we cooperated, and our counselors inspired us to work together. Our individual actions and intentions benefited the others in the group and ourselves. It felt good. We had no idea, but we were building character.

Camp was the first place in life that I learned to appreciate intentional group and individual reflection. Share time, “rose-bud-thorn,” or whatever we called it back then, was solemn, ceremonial, and remarkably memorable. Those early camp experiences were so formative and an opportunity to learn and practice additional strengths, such as social intelligence and responsibility, emotional intelligence, community-mindedness, discipline, humility, amenability, appreciation for different ideas, honesty, peacefulness — and maybe even gain a little wisdom. Today I know that our camp directors were wisely intentional and purposeful in their program designs back then.

Years later, as a counselor trainee and summer staffer, I got hooked on the self-discovery, authentic community, and restorative encouragement that was foundational to those experiences. Summers working at camp taught me humility, servant leadership, and heart-mindedness in contrast to college, grad school, and the workforce, where I was more attuned to personal ambition and future economic success. I worked my tail off at camp but felt great joy from the experience and heartfelt satisfaction from my contributions. And camp had a positive effect on my future economic success without such a laser focus.

When I think back on those days, I am reminded of the words of the late Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom John Masefield, who once wrote, “The days that make us happy make us wise.”

I’m so grateful for the many ways camp experiences shaped my qualities and life aspirations and prepared me to go out into the world and make it a better place.

Camus, A. (1946). The stranger. New York, NY: Vintage.

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