It had been some time, before this week, that I had gone to a Church camp in any capacity. More than half a lifetime ago, in fact. I was 17 and attending camp in the north of England near Coniston Water. In fact, there was a connection between those two camps. In 1998, when I visited England, among my fellow campers were a pair of brothers from the Netherlands. Here, at Camp Arrah Wanna, their nephew and niece served as part of the teen staff of the camp from the Netherlands. The church is a very small place, and nowhere is that more obvious than when it comes it comes to areas of travel and service. In that light, I would like to share some moderately unconnected but hopefully worthwhile observations about the experiences I had at camp this year, and I hope that those who read this will find much to enjoy and appreciate.
Arriving at camp, I felt a bit rushed and underprepared. I had received in the last week a large amount of information to read and attempt to assimilate, particularly daunting for someone who had never served at a camp before in any capacity other than that as a camper, and had only attended camp twice during my teenage years, both of those difficult experiences for one reason or another. Nor do I think I was alone in feeling unprepared, as I kept on having duties added at the last minute–ranging from picking up a lovely mother (who was on the Swim staff) and her two daughters from the airport to serving as the responsible adult for three nights of teen activities including a somewhat disappointing dance (at least I did not try to dance with anyone there, not that the company was in any way unpleasant, but that I did not feel comfortable), a night of mafia playing, and a swim party where I spent a fair amount of time chatting with the lifeguard about our mutual interests in writing and where both her and I sought more or less successfully to avoid getting wet while most of the teens acted a bit silly and refused to follow continually repeated instructions from the lifeguard.
Besides feeling a bit underprepared for what was asked of me, and feeling as if I was perhaps not the best person to be watching over the teen staff, through no fault of their own being a friendly lot of young people, I was struck by how little private time there was. I am someone who, although a social person, greatly values time by myself, especially to read and write. I had no time to write, and barely any time to read, while I was there. In fact, I had to go to the somewhat extreme length of hiding in the crafts shack to finish reading the small 200 page book that I had been working on for the entire time of camp, seeing that I had no more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time during the rest of the day from about 7:00AM to after 11:00PM to myself. This was odd, and more than a little bit disconcerting for me personally. Even when I had been a camper as a teen, there had been a lot more personal time, time enough to write thousands of lines of bad poetry when I had been camping in England, and plenty of alone time as someone who was unable to participate in sports after hitting my head on a ceiling fan in my other camping experience. I am not sure if others were more successful in finding solitary time, but I can say for certain that my own internal balance between quiet and solitary time for reading and writing and reflection and social time was definitely very skewed. It was striking, and odd, for me to realize just how much I need time and space to be alone, seeing as most of my life I spend having too much time alone.
Speaking of that latter subject, I found that my singlehood was a subject of considerable interest among other people. A woman I did not know before camp, but whose family I know fairly well, queried me awkwardly at some length about getting in the game, and another person sitting beside her talked about her own experiences in dating. Then there were the questions from children, well-intentioned but no less awkward for all that, asking me if I had a wife and children, and then when I patiently answered that I did not, seemed to fairly naturally wonder why . In general, as is often the case, I found the children around me to be delightful company, strange and alien in their own ways, and though I enjoyed their company, I felt strangely apart from them, as if the gulf of time and the horrors of my own childhood, most of which seemed utterly unfamiliar to the adored and well-loved tiny people around me formed a gulf that could not entirely be bridged. I can hope that, like most of the little people I know, some of whom were there at camp, they thought of me as odd and perhaps a bit strange but kind, but I am sure that I came across as highly odd. It could hardly be otherwise.
About camp itself and its activities a few things should be said. For one, I found that I had a strong preference for teaching the Bible to the older children, who at least could follow most of where I was going, but that it was surprisingly enjoyable to watch children of all ages dance. Dance and music reveal some fascinating qualities within children. Some people are comfortable learning from watching the footsteps of others and pick up dances quite quickly. While most of the other members of her dorm and a brother dorm were doing the Cotton Eyed Joe, for example, to the dance-pop version by the Swedish group Rednex, I saw one young lady doing something that looked a bit more countrified, although it was not a dance I knew the name to. Being a people watcher, serving as the dj for the dance and music class, which was in every available hour outside of meals and Christian living during the course of the day, was a veritable gold mine of intriguing observations of people working together, of people pouting on the side of the dance floor because something had gone wrong, like not being fast enough to master the Scottish Highland Dance, and in the way that people like to show themselves as having learned the songs I taught them well enough not to need the demonstration track or even lyrics to look at. I was, in general, pleased by their ambition and also heartened by their enjoyment in the activities they did.
As far as the main activities go, the food at camp was certainly very good, and was served in such a quantity that anyone who went hungry did so purely by their own design, seeing that it was more than suitable even for someone as picky as I am. I found myself drinking a lot more water than usual because I felt strangely and consistently dehydrated, and so I would keep drinking water at every opportunity during meals and breaks, trying to keep myself well hydrated. The campfire time, which routinely went over its allotted hour in length towards the end of the day, was both the time for being dragooned into more songs and the occasional rant about the latest monocular reviews by a camp counselor and sometimes some wonderful story telling by the camp elders. We sang the songs enough that the children should be familiar with the songs, and hopefully remember something about them, when it is time for them to sing the songs at the feast. The skits were, in general, pretty funny, and some of them had reminded me of my own writing for skits in the past, which is about the most lighthearted that my writing gets.
Despite the general lack of personal time, and the fact that I was fairly busy the entire time, I found at least a few occasions for personal conversations of a highly interesting nature. For example, I found that my reputation had preceded me when it came to the woman who I drove to and from the airport, whose husband had remembered my name connected to some controversial comments on an online forum. Not being the sort of person to engage in controversial online communication (/joke), I was bemused at being known to some extent by someone whom I did not know in the least, which reminded me that we are far more often seen than the act of being seen is brought to our attention, so much more read than others deign to write, so much more listened to than we are spoken to about what others are listening to. All in all, despite the occasional annoyances, this is an activity I would like to do again. It provides a sense of appreciation in the fleeting innocence of youth, it provides enough social time to satisfy the desires for fellowship of anyone, and exceed it in others, and it provides the opportunity for service of the little ones around us, whether we know them or not. And all of that far exceeds any of the little annoyances and frustrations that come along with such service.
 See, for example: