I’m listening to a chorus that I imagine is what it sounds like on a turkey farm. There are groups of Pineview campers who have wandered up from the canoe lake after floating their wishboats, and they are sobbing! Deep gutteral, catch your breath sobs. That’s a good sound from where I sit. These girls don’t want to let go. It’s the sound of friendships changing directions. It’s the realization that the simplicity of life in the Heavenly is getting ready to be replaced by a more complicated world. It’s exhaustion. The last night of camp is emotional for all of us. As a veteran of 23 camp summers as a director, the older I get, the more nostalgic I get. As a parent who has weathered those years when I was praying for glimpses of the person my children would become one day (soon please!), I understand the value of those “thin places,” places where the separation between the ordinary world and the eternal world is very thin. I think Illahee is one of those places. There are plenty of institutions out there, and there often is a fine line, especially with girls, between those that exist to be insular, and those that radiate outward to build one another up.
At the end of final campfire, and after the presentation of Illahee banners to new girls, ten year gold signet rings to older girls, Bibles to the JCs, and monogrammed charms to the CITs, we get to my favorite part of final night as campers reflect through their wish for camp. Each hill, the CITs, JCs, and counselors read something they have written from their heart. They are chosen by their respective peers to represent the other girls. Always, it is moving. Every once in a while, it is more than that. Tonight, with my head in my hands, I stared at the embers of the dying campfire and listened as CIT Remy shared her poetry.
“A couple of nights ago, a friend and I sat by the edge of the lake, our toes buried deep in the cold dewy grass, and we stared at the stars. For a while we spectated in silence, listening to the faint hum of mosquitoes (editor note: must be something else cause we don’t have mosquitoes in the Heavenly), relishing in the quietness of the night, until her soft voice penetrated the stillness. What she spoke was neither a question nor a statement, but it took me aback. Without breaking her gaze from the stars, she simply said, “everyone at camp loves…here at Illahee, the single most influential driving force is love. It is the sole element from which all things revolve.” She goes on to say that it is so prevalent, it often goes unnoticed: “Having the youngest of campers run towards their counselors for a warm embrace is a common sight, and seeing girls hold hands as they accompany one another to their next activity is nothing short of ordinary.”‘
Isolated from the outside world, Illahee’s love makes for the sweetest of memories and is capable of transforming strangers into sisters. Though the memories we make here will surely last a lifetime, camp is but a fleeting glimpse of eternity, and as quickly as it comes, it goes. So it is our wish for you to hold fast to this special love as Illahee is only capable of renewing it for one month out of the year, so keep it close to your heart, and never let it go. Camp is a gift of life-long value, and its benefits are endless.