Taya’s Reflections on Thankfulness
There was a camp song when I was kid called Thanksgiving Eve. Like many other songs I have known to be camp songs, we don’t sing it very often anymore. Sometimes the only person who knows the song leaves, or sometimes other songs more resonant to contemporary camp come along, and an old song gets shunted out of that summer’s campfire rotation. Another summer goes by and requests for the song are few and far between. Then the next summer, with substantially less people who remember it, no one thinks to request it. It is a minor tragedy I have seen many times, the passing of a camp song. The very reason I learned to play guitar was so I could save my favorite songs from this fate.
But a the slow and quiet death of a camp song is not always permanent. I’ve seen songs that disappeared for years come back to life. Someone will come back who remembers, and often the rest of camp will jump on board just like they did the first time it was introduced.
Thanksgiving Eve, itself had a brief resurgence a few years ago, when Melissa Herman was at camp. I’m not sure if it resonated then the way it did when I was a kid, but it does illustrate the point that songs can come back to life. It’s a song about being thankful for the things we have, a song about living in the moment, and treating every moment as a gift. A Thanksgiving dinner with my family is a a moment I look forward to every year. A gift.
But somehow this year feels different. Somehow, I feel far more thankful this year. During the years I was gone from camp, I don’t think I ever went into Thanksgiving feeling particularly thankful. I was caught up in anxiety and doubt about my future, distressed by the dwindling usefulness of my dormant bachelor’s degree. Unsure of my capacity to thrive and even function in a world and a life with no camp to go to. I was not thankful. But now I am.
I’m thankful I got to go back. I’m thankful the paradise I remember was still there, waiting for me. I’m thankful for all the wonderful new people I got to meet, for the chance to experience their version of camp. I’m thankful I got to see camp as defined by them. I’m thankful I got to be on staff with Bob one last time, that I got the chance to help send him off properly. I’m thankful for the chance to see so many of the children I once knew grow up and see their dreams of becoming staff members come true. I’m thankful for how immeasurably proud they all made me. I don’t think that I have any greater source of strength in my life to draw from than that pride. I would be thankful to know that they all know that. As I hurtle haphazardly into adulthood, I’m thankful for that source of strength.
I’m thankful to Jake and Kerry, for their discerning eye for the beauty of this thing they found, and their willingness to dedicate their entire beings to caring for it. I’m thankful for the way that the insecurities I came into camp with this summer were so decisively discredited by the 500 people who would not let me forget the person who I’m really supposed to be. I’m thankful that I got to lead trips, that even after all this time there was still a new experience and role for me to have. I’m thankful for the excitement of the adventures and the richness of the misadventures. I’m thankful for the kids who were brave enough to come with us, who represented our camp with admirable grace and respect in the community. I’m thankful that one more circle game and one last refrain of Sammy’s Bar was sung.
Some time ago, while I was away, I was sitting alone with my guitar, playing Chicago, by Sufjan Stevens. I closed my eyes, and my voice rang out and filled my small apartment with the defiant words, “you came to take us, all things go, all things go” and I could almost see a firelit cabin meadow, the flames making the shadows of the people sitting around it dance. A shiver ran through my whole body as I felt that familiar cabin meadow campfire feeling. You know the feeling. But after a moment it was gone. I opened my eyes to see not a firelit cabin meadow, but my dreary basement apartment.
Had I been taken? Had I gone, as all things go? Would I ever get to sing at that fire again? Not as a visitor, getting a brief impression of the feeling (like I said, you all know the feeling) but as part of the fabric, as a piece of glass in the kaleidoscope. Immersed in the moment. Would I ever again get to linger at Sunday Morning Meeting, playing music for the future counselors? As I finished the song, I realized how terrified I was of the possibility that maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe life had taken me too far away.
I’m thankful I was wrong. I’m thankful that now I know this isn’t over, and probably never will be. I’m thankful that I can go back to Windsor Mountain. I don’t know why I ever thought I couldn’t. Age. Societally constructed expectations. I’m thankful that I don’t care about that stuff. I’m thankful that I get to be a song that will not die. See you next summer.
[And we are thankful for you, Taya, and everyone in the Windsor Mountain family. Love to all.]