My Week “Off”: Personal Lessons and Reflections From Camp

Nobody asked, but I’ve been away for a week…

“…not that anyone cares.” (Sarah Goth, Big Bang Theory)

I took a week off, which means today I’ll pay extra in catch-up at work, catch up on emails, catch up on house work, and this week I’ll need to cut the grass in between rainstorms.  I have a hate-hate relationship with routine.  I hate breaking the routine, but I hate being trapped in this routine.  “Not that anyone cares…”

I have just spent the past week, from Sunday through Saturday, voluntarily sleeping outdoors in a tent, and I paid for the experience.  I’m an introvert but I was surrounded by around 200 other campers, also in tents.  My smelly, fellow campers (say that 10 times fast, I dare you to try) were considerate for the most part, keeping their distance almost everywhere except at meal time.  I went to Boy Scout camp, and I’m not even a Boy Scout.  I avoided the poison ivy and the spiders.  A few mosquitoes did make it through to have a snack, but that was minor for me.  Others seemed to have it much worse with the mosquitoes.  Bug spray was not always effective.

I feel the slow slump of the downward spiral of emotions creeping up behind me, damn it to hell, but I didn’t let on and I tried not to let it affect my week.  I focused on learning opportunities for myself.  And I did learn.  I’ve reflected on many things, including personal potential, circumstances outside of my control, inclusivity and exclusivity, friendships, encouragements, and an acute awareness of haves and have-nots .  And my mum did not send a care package while I was away at camp.  Because I’m almost 50 and I should be able to care for myself.

I spent time in the sunshine, working alongside the scouts and leaders.  My wife read that we’re almost all deficient in vitamin D, and need more sunshine.  She read that a side-effect of the deficiency is depression, so I’ve got that going for me now I guess.  The rest is, I guess, all in my screwed-up head.

I missed my family, except my scout, who wasn’t supposed to come up to me for anything but did several times.  Poor thing, he wanted his dad’s attention against the staff policy that I’m just another adult leader, not his dad, just for the week.  And I gave it, expecting to be reprimanded for breaking the rules a few times.  The reprimand only happened once, and I broke a few rules a few times.  I missed my music, so I was encouraged when one of the older scouts had his music on his phone, which is another thing- no electronics- which older scouts can be exempted from for some reason.  And his music was great, mostly, for a 17 year old guy.  I missed my bug-free, indoor-type house, my refrigerator, my alcohol. In the rain, and in the steamy humidity, I missed my comfy, dry bed.  I missed my bathroom, and my shower, but I did make use of the facilities at camp.  Yuck.  I did not miss work, or cooking, or laundry.  I missed my electronics, which, if I owned something portable enough, I, as an adult leader, could have used the whole week.  I really need a laptop.  This year, perhaps, I’ll muster the requisite funds from my CFO (here read, “wife.”  “And I Love Her,” regardless.  (I know, it was a cover he did of the Beatles song)  I love her so much I’ll even put up with any “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me.” (nice mullet, J.D.)).

I enjoyed a few extended moments of peace and solitude.  I enjoyed birds singing.  I enjoyed seeing stars without so much light pollution.   And introverted me, I enjoyed some of the camaraderie around the campfire, jokes around the dinner table, including some guy-humour involving puns and jokes about air-shows and references to John Denver’s ill-fated experimental aircraft.  It should still be too soon to joke about it, but in the moment, it was funny.  Sorry, Denver fans.  I like John Denver too, and I know more of his songs than you’d think.  I enjoyed starting in on a few books I brought along to read. I finally learned how to make my tent zipper work with a minimum of difficulty.  On prior trips my zipper kept getting stuck on an elastic outer guard.  In the hot weather I hated walking and carrying my backpack and my gear.  Sometimes “Sunshine On My Shoulder” isn’t a good thing.  In the cooler weather that followed the rain, it wasn’t so bad.

My Potential:  I am being stifled by a lack of motivation, which really sucks because now that I’m back I realize that I do have potential, but I already feel the creeping vines of lack of motivation growing around me.  I’m being stifled by a lack of personal time.  Ironically, I had a lot of time and motivation on camp-out but no electronics to work on what I need to finish.  I am being stifled by a lack of personal funds, but we’re crawling out of that shit-hole, slowly but surely.  I hope we don’t slip.  Backsliding into shit is no fun.  There were shades of “Shawshank Redemption,” there, in my flashback.  But speaking of shit, the restrooms, outside of the campsite itself, were fully functional and not latrines, thank God.  While they did in fact smell like shit, it was not an overly dramatic shitty smell like a latrine normally has.  My lack of motivation comes from not knowing what my potential is, and also from trying and failing or trying and being pushed back into the shit by someone in control.  The motivation issues, the hell-is-other-people, my misgivings about my own personal potential, these are the stuck zippers on the tent of my life.  I need to figure out how this works, and soon.  Other people make the process look so easy.

My tent is one of those little one-person numbers.  Without any gear, there might be room for two short people who don’t move about while sleeping.  The tent ceiling felt about 3 and a half feet off the ground, maybe 4 feet, tops. I may be speaking in hyperbole, but you get the idea.  It was cramped, even though it was six feet by four feet on the ground.  I wasn’t able to stand up in there without hunkering down, and had to sleep at an odd angle to fit my six foot two frame lying down. And after the rain, the water started to pool in the back corner of my tent.  The tent is an almost perfect metaphor for life:  The size of my tent is too small.  Like Jabez in the Bible, faddish though it was a few years ago in Christ-follower circles, I need a bigger “tent.”  The current one doesn’t let me stretch to my full potential.  In life, I’m cramped and uncomfortable.  Sometimes I really, really wish I could “Fly Away.”

Also, I need some higher ground to put my tent on, because it’s letting the rain inside and ruining what I do have because it’s getting wet.  The ground was hard too, but I had a sort of poorly cushioning “camp pad” to raise me about two inches, which was almost enough to keep my left foot out of the puddle.  Let’s call the puddles and mud a metaphor for “sin,” just so you all know how clingy those damned habits can be.  I know the right things to do sometimes, and even if I know them it doesn’t mean I’m going to choose them.  As sure as there is mud, sometimes my foot is going to stray into it.  It’s seeping right into my tent and if I’m sleeping or not paying attention…

Circumstances Outside of My Control:  Sometimes life is going to hand you rain, mud, or worse, shit. At camp I learned sometimes I have to wait until an opportune time, seize it, wash it off, and move on.  Sometimes I might get hurt, as a few of my fellow campers did this week.  I was spared anything personal other than “stiffness in my bones,” and “no beauty queens in this locality.” (Yup, Queen lyrics)  In that case, I learned to tell someone there is a problem, not to do anything drastic, and to do my best with what I have until help comes along.  In the case of a few campers, it was medical intervention, which worked out very well for them.

Inclusivity and Exclusivity:  At camp, there were many team-building exercises and demonstrations.  I’ve reinforced that it’s a bad idea to shut out anyone because of personal quirks, mine or theirs.  We all need each other.  And, because I showed up and was willing to encourage others when they failed, or hadn’t yet succeeded, and cheer on others when they did succeed, make personal sacrifices, carry a share of the weight of various projects and responsibilities, whether they were actually mine or not, I was welcomed and included, and even made a new friend or two. Hundred.  Little, introverted me.  I’ve reinforced it’s a good idea to include others, to encourage others, to work hard for myself and for my team, and my team is everybody around me.  If I encourage and demonstrate that I care, it’s a whole lot easier to make a friend by offering a friendship.  Sure, some people will take advantage of you and let you carry them, but only if you let it go that far.  It’s like we’re dancing a “Calypso” and learning together.  Nobody should be shut out and left as a wall flower.

Acute Awareness of Haves and Have-Nots:  This one woke me up.  I like to bitch and moan sometimes and have big pity-parties for myself about whatever I don’t have that I want or think I need.  But at camp I was a “have” in a lot of circumstances, and I abruptly woke up to the reality that everyone is either a have or a have-not, and on the team the haves need to help the have-nots in order for the whole team to succeed.  I offered my fellow campers whatever I had that they needed, and that was another friendship exercise.  In non-camping life, I hope I continue to carry that awareness, so I can help people to share in what I have.  And maybe the haves for my have-nots will be willing to share with me.  We can all slip into selfishness and entitlements, or we can realize others have needs that we can help meet.  My son had his dad with him, even if sometimes I was on the other side of the campground.  Other scouts weren’t so fortunate.  Maybe they needed an encouraging word, from me.  If I saw and felt they needed something I had, I volunteered.  A high-five.  An “atta-boy.”  A “you can do it!”  A cheer for their success.  A demonstration to pass on a skill, as if I were the scout’s own dad.  I’ll bet that 17 year-old scout didn’t have a single damn John Denver song on his playlist.  But that’s OK.

Now, if someone can demonstrate how to get the sunscreen out of my backpack and one of my books, that would be helpful.  Something I stuffed in there hit the spray valve and it all sprayed out on my shit  gear.  And maybe I’m asking too much, hoping too high, but if someone would buy me a laptop…

It’s almost my birthday.  “And hey, it’s good to be back home again.”

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