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The Peace of Pilgrim Pines

by Michelle R. Lambert

Pilgrim Pines Camp“Why can’t I just live at camp?” “Why do we have to go home?” “Camp is so much easier; it’s so much more peaceful here!” After spending my 18th summer at Pilgrim Pines Summer Camp, I heard the same things I’ve been hearing since I was a six year old Mini camper. Saying goodbye to camp is hard whether you’re a six year old, first time camper, or a 24 year old experienced director.

This year though, it was a lot harder for me. I came home yesterday and caught up on the 4 weeks of news that I’d missed. And I’m out of words. How? How did so many people die while I was busy having fun being safe and feeling loved?  How did people get shot and run over and bombed while I was busy playing and laughing and singing and loving?  Why can’t I just go back home to camp? Or why can’t I bring camp home with me? Why can’t those people in the rest of the world be as peaceful as all of us “camp people”?

Camp is so amazingly peaceful. Every day at camp I see innumerable moments of safe, peaceful success. Campers are safe to try things they’ve never tried before; from an 11 year old camper eating her first strawberry, to a 6 year sleeping away from his home for the first time, to a 13 year old trying out a new personality trait, to a 16 year old camper climbing 35 feet in the air on the rock wall. Every camper gets a chance to succeed in a safe, peaceful environment. Plus, campers are safe to create peaceful space to succeed for each other: 4th-6th grade juniors help Pinester adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities make peace trees at crafts; junior high/middle school campers teach 1st-3rd grade minis how to properly set a table; and senior high campers help lead everyone in songs and dances. No matter who you are at camp, you are given a safe space to succeed and create a safe space for someone else to succeed. If that’s not peaceful, I don’t know what is.

Peace matters at camp. You can tell just from the signage. “The mountains shall bring peace to the people” from Psalm 72 is a quote on many different signs at camp, and is a message tattooed on at least 5 people from camp, including myself. The first time I “felt God” in that stereotypical epiphany moment, I was walking through the mountains at camp in a moment of tranquil, peaceful quiet. Camp has always been peaceful and calm for me. Camp creates peace.Pilgrim Pines cabins

Now, don’t get me wrong: camp is hard. It’s not all peaceful epiphanies and successes. As the Junior Director, its being responsible for the safety and well-being of up to 50 other human beings. It’s getting campers the correct medications at the right time, helping campers feel emotions that are way too big for their bodies and tearful calls to the Child Protective Services Abuse Report Hotline. Its breaking up campers whose older brothers are in rival gangs and breaking up campers who disagree about who should be first in line for pizza. Its cleaning up vomit from the sweet little kid who ate too much spaghetti and hugging the kid who hates every moment and just wants to go home. Its loving these ridiculous, wonderful kids who need love at their most unlovable points so they can be safe.

Everyone says, “I could never do it. You’re a super hero for going to camp like that”. But I’m not. I’m just a person. Every leader at camp is just a regular person. No more special or more patient or more peaceful than any other person. We’re all just people. And the campers too. The campers are just regular kids. No more well behaved or loving than any other kids. “Camp people” are no more special than any other people in the world. So then why is camp so peaceful and the rest of the world so…not?

One of my favorite songs at camp starts “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me”. Even as a kid, I loved the idea that I could do something. And not just something, I could start peace! Peace is this huge thing that everyone wishes for during beauty pageants and every politician promises if we just give them a vote and enough of our tax dollars. This huge, important thing could start with me?!

The question is: how? Peace can start with me, but when I caught up on the news of the last month, there were wars and bombings and serial killers and gang violence and all these huge, not at all peaceful things and not a single one is solvable by me. I make peace at camp all the time. But I can’t stop the serial killers by making them all write their feelings on a paper to share with each other before burning them in a symbolic fire. I can’t go to the Middle East and have everyone work together to get each person across the “lava flow” together using only a few 2x4s and cinderblocks so they can learn teamwork and to respect each other. I’m not going to sit the various gangs down and show them all that retaliation just leads to more retaliation and that everyone can have more fun if we all let it go and no one has to be in time out anymore. I can’t create world peace and I can’t make the whole world just like Pilgrim Pines.

Pilgrim Pines CampSo then what? Am I doomed to spend my first week home from camp each year depressed and hopeless after catching up on a month of news?

NO! Because I can send a little bit of “camp peace” down the mountain with each camper. I can’t stop every gang member ever from shooting each other, but I might have stopped two 9 year old boys from entering a gang by showing them love for a week every summer for the last 5 years. I’ll hopefully never have a single conversation with a serial killer, but I might have given the love needed to start an abused, angry, lonely kid down a less violent path. I might not ever step foot in a single Middle Eastern country, but I might have taught a future politician that peace is always worth striving for or future voters that its worth voting for. And hopefully, I can inspire future counselors and directors to continue camp peace!

And I can bring a little bit of “camp peace” down the mountain with me. I can smile at everyone the way I do at camp. I can push myself to find one thing to compliment each person on the way I do for my campers. I may not be able to bring peace to the world; but I can awaken the ability to be peaceful in all the regular people I interact with, even if just for a moment.

Coming home from camp is always tough. You’re leaving this amazing feeling of peace and comradery. We’ve even named the phenomenon: Post Camp Depression. PCD for short. We all say, “it’s so hard coming home from camp. It’s just not the same down the mountain”.  And I don’t think “down the mountain” will ever have quite the magic of camp. But I can start by giving the love and peace of camp to each of you reading this and asking you to bring it with you into the world.

My whole world may never be peaceful, but I get peace knowing I have contributed, in some small way, to the world’s work of creating peace And while I may not have moments of tranquil peace and quiet while walking alone up a hill, I can find peace knowing that the world I share is inhabited by thousands of other Pilgrim Pines campers and counselors and directors and friends who have all felt the Pilgrim Pines Peace. And I can have peace knowing that I’ll get to continue spreading that Pilgrim Pines Peace for years and years to come.

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