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Flickr photo by Leslie Science & Nature Camp

Father Knows Best: Life lessons from summer camp

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By Martin Elfert

Hey Rev!

I wish that I were still at summer camp.

Tom

House-ad_SPO_FKB_new_0429139Dear Tom:

I’m totally with you.

The last day of summer camp is one of the foundational metaphors of my life. In the utility closet in which I keep the symbols that I reach for most often, that final morning on which everyone rolls up their sleeping bags and puts their still wet swimsuits into their backpacks sits at the front of the middle shelf. Saying farewell, exchanging promises to write, taking a last look at the lake and the dining hall, and then getting on the bus still smelling of campfires and laughter: these memories touch big feelings.

Maybe departing from camp casts such long shadows in your heart and in mine (and I suspect in the hearts of others) because that early-life experience of leave taking is a kind of icon for every ending that will follow it. The last day of camp is about thanksgiving: for new friendships, for new experiences, for deepened maturity (I spent a week away from my parents and it was OK). And it is about mourning: for departures from beloved places and things and people, for an irreversible step away from childhood, for the certain and hard and wistful and beautiful knowledge that time is passing and camp – like youth, like life – will not last forever.

As you climb the worn vinyl steps of the bus, gratitude and the presence of absence both hang in the air around you.

Mrs. FKB, our children, and I are packing. Across the street from the St. John’s Cathedral, the house in which we live is decorated with bubble wrap, twine, and tape. The moving truck will come soon and we will leave for Portland, Ore. In the slightly frantic work of fitting lamps and stuffed animals into boxes, our family is finding a little time for remembrance.

Looking back on our almost four years in Spokane, there is so much for which we are grateful. We say thanks for new friends, for a deepened understanding of the Gospel and where it is at work in this city, for the many ways in which we have shared with you in the new life that God promises to all of us. And we mourn as well: we mourn with those friends who experienced big losses during our time here, we mourn for those friends who died during our time here, we mourn that our time in this community is coming to a close.

As you get onto the bus, one of the heavy and wondrous things that you carry in your backpack is the knowledge this community in which you found so much learning and joy will never be assembled in quite the same way again. Even if you could achieve the logistically monumental feat of getting absolutely everyone back here next summer (there would be a rule that no one new would be allowed sign up and everyone would have to promise to come back and not to move away or get sick or die), you still could not duplicate what was. In a year’s time, we would all be changed, we all would be in different places in the great walk of our lives.

So. We will take our seats on the bus. And as it starts to move and the chorus of “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” begins and the child sitting across from us furtively hands out contraband gum, we will look out the window and hope that nobody notices that we have been caught off guard by tears. We will hope that nobody asks to whom or to what we are whispering, “thanks,” as the bus turns the corner and summer camp disappears behind the trees.

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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2 comments

  1. So true that a week away from one’s usual environment can allow for significant shifts in our being…just like your 4 years in Spokane for you & your family…moving in mysterious ways God’s wonders to perform in us!

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