Some thoughts about camp...and also about knowing who you are
"Self Knowledge Brings Happiness"
Years ago I remember reading in People magazine about celebrities who were helping to run a pediatric AIDS program in memory of the late Elizabeth Glaser. One day each year Hollywood devoted a day to fun and games where sick kids were allowed to get their faces painted by Madonna or kids played dodgeball with Kevin Bacon. All in all...a good thing.
But it bugged me that the photos all featured famous people wearing baseball hats printed with the word "Hero" on it while the kid with AIDS went without. I mean...isn't that a little strange that the concept of heroism was, at the time, only applied to the rich moviestar who donated a few hours for photo ops...and not to the kid whose life had been severely compromised by a disease??
Someone must have tipped them off that the thing with the hats was in the poorest of taste because I haven't seen anyone wearing them lately. But the whole thing made me think about last week at cancer camp. It would be the understatement of the year to say that I've learned a lot about cancer in the last few years. I've also learned a lot about myself and it's not all good news.
More than once this week I've had to ask myself just whan in HELL I was doing there with kids who need a sensitive and warm/fuzzy person to teach them art/crafts. Who do I think I am? Granted, Mr. Half and I give a lot of our time to "causes", but we're no "do-gooders" and despite the way I vote, I can be as intolerant as anyone else. It took me years of folks hammering at me before I came aboard to be associated with this camp, and when I did it was only to fill the space as Arts & Crafts teacher. I had no desire then--or now--to be glued 24-7 to a cabin of kids. And I think I've done a good job. When I devise an activity or order the materials for it, I approach it like an artist, but once I'm with the kids I approach it like a teacher. I can honestly say that I've raised the bar in making the A&C program better than it's ever been. No more paper plates glued together with pinto beans inside to make a giant tambourine. B-O-R-I-N-G! That said, I must also admit that my methods don't completely take into account the many different kinds of kids who pass through the art building. That became obvious to me in the past few days and I'm not entirely happy about it.
In conversations with my middle sister where we're asked to categorize ourselves as being "justice-oriented" or "mercy-oriented" people, we've both had to admit that we both fall in with the former group. That's not to say that I don't get a lump in my throat when I see little bald kids slumped over in their wheelchairs. What it means is that I question how much a camper with asthma, leukemia, rampant excema and Down's Syndrome is going to get out of an hour in my class. Can I really count it as therapeutic or is it just babysitting? If it's just babysitting, then why am I there?
And because I question whether or not that kid is getting anything out of it, I wonder if my goals are being met. That leads me to ask myself if my personal goals are getting in the way of a "child-focused program"...which is something we're supposed to be. Being "justice-oriented" means that, cancer or not, I still get hacked off when kids waste materials or ask to be granted special favors. I sometimes can't tell the difference between a kid whose brain has been scrambled by umpteen rounds of chemo and a kid who would be a total ass even if he/she had never been compromised by something like cancer.
We, none of us, are heroes. The volunteers who show up summer after summer and toil equally hard at the helm of the camp's board are just trying to make a good thing out of a bad situation. We're teachers and firefighters and radio dj's and restaurant owners. Everyone of us has our limits. But I don't see the limits of others as well as I see my own. I can't decide if I'm supposed to constantly keep in mind the idea that these campers are cancer patients, or if I'm supposed to immerse them in an attitude of "normal" and treat them the way I should treat anyone else. One scenario demands that I have no expectations and the other requires me to have many. I think the answer is in the gray area and that's a place I have a hard time staying in...let alone locating.
So the whole "self-knowledge" thing is, according to the Chinese saying, supposed to bring happiness. For me, it often brings more self-doubt. The more I go to camp, the more I learn about others as well as myself. So when people ask me how camp went this summer, I have to pause. I think it went okay, but I can't tell if I'm supposed to use my own experiences as the template for a good time. Or if I'm supposed to remember the smile on the face of the kid clutching a shapeless, fist-sized sculpture made from four bar$(!!) of Sculpey polymer clay after I said to only use a tiny bit. You tell me.