True Connectedness

True Connectedness

Hello friends, here is a guest blog post from our good friend and former counselor, Jamie Burgess:

A couple of nights before the end of summer, I was reluctantly unrolling my sleeping bag over the jelly-sticky floor of the dining hall. We were deep in a camp-wide game, and my bungalow had been assigned to sleep here. My creaking, thin-mattressed bed in the Tent Unit was the one small solace of my day, and I’d had to leave it for a sleepless night on the hardwood. I was unenthused.

            I was also trying to steel myself against what I knew would be a difficult goodbye: it was my third summer as a counselor, and the campers who had been in my bunk my first year were now LITs. Watching them grow was part of how I measured time. Now, they would leave camp, and I would never again spend aimless nights listening to them giggle and gossip on the archery range.

            Across the dining hall, Curtis was helping his campers bed down. The cabin boys—unlike my bungalow—were loving the adventure of sleeping on the floor. They had trucked out the entire contents of their cabin. Their side of the room looked like an armored fort.

            Curtis waved me toward him. “I have to go check on the other counselors,” he whispered—he was LUC, and other people were counting on him—“but I have a favor to ask you.”

            Of course, anything.

            “Will you do highs and lows with my campers?” he asked. “I think it’s important for them, since they’re sleeping in this new place, to have their routine and know someone is here.”

            I nodded to Curtis, and he took off into the dark to make his rounds, while I assembled the children in the middle of the room and listened to the stories of their days, their little triumphs and sorrows.

            As they shared, I came out of my little sadness and into the room. I realized that Curtis had been thinking of his campers when I’d been thinking of myself. He had pulled me back into the world of other people. And he’d given me what I wanted in the first place: to feel connected.

            It was as simple as highs and lows.

            I got off a two-hour Zoom call the other day and sat staring into space for a few minutes. I let myself sit in my longing for Windsor Mountain, our home in the woods. It never feels farther away than when I have just spent time in internetland.

            It has been painful for me to open the box of camp memories in my mind these past few months. Life in the bubble is the opposite of life in the pandemic. It is not veiled by screens or separated by distance. It is immediate, sharp, and bright. I miss our togetherness. Our connectedness to each other.

            I think of the way that bodies are close together at camp: we sit on the same blanket to listen to campfire, and as the night gets colder, we fold the blanket up over our legs and huddle together to stay warm.

            We toss our arms around our friends while we walk, and the connectedness is easy; it’s supposed to be like this. We hug. And hug. And hug.

            “You need three a day,” my friend Sigrid says, when you hug her. Sigrid is in her mid-eighties and has lived alone for several years. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve worried all the time that Sigrid isn’t getting her three hugs. Which is worse: getting the virus or living without hugging?

            While camp seems like a place where we are always connected, we have all been there, surrounded by people, and felt alone. There was one summer when Sigrid got very sick, and I walked through camp and saw everyone young and healthy, and I thought about my friend. I didn’t feel connected; I felt worried and apart.

            So we know that connectedness is not just about walking around the cabin meadow. It’s about feeling the spark of friendship that we recognize in another person. We catch glimpses of it more easily at camp, but that’s not the only place we can feel this spark.

            One summer at camp orientation, we were asked a simple question: What do you need to be happy?

            I thought of everything I needed: I needed my family to be healthy and safe. I needed my friends to be nearby and to give me their attention. I needed my campers to stop asking me if they could go on a cereal run.

            Augusta said, “I need music and animals.”

            When we want to feel connectedness, we have to act in connectedness. Once, I interviewed an author named Celeste Headlee, who has given a famous TED Talk about how to be better at having conversations. She told me that the human brain has adapted to understand hundreds of tiny nuances in a human voice. That’s why it’s better to deliver apologies over the phone instead of in an email. Someone can hear when you are being genuine—the way I could hear Curtis was genuine when he asked me to do highs and lows with his campers.

            This is true connectedness: when you are brave enough to be honest.

            Just as camp is not a place where we always experience true connection, the internet doesn’t always have to be lonely, either. I think we have to make our peace with the fact that many of us will be working, going to school, and spending time with our friends in virtual space. How can we feel truly connected even here? I spent a lot of nights when I was a young teenager talking with my friends on instant messenger (it was like texting but before texting), and those connections, while they weren’t in-person, were true and real—I think honesty was a big part of that, too.

            There is a way to feel that spark of connectedness even while removed from each other by distance, but it requires listening. Sometimes, we reach out across the airwaves and hope for a certain response, and we are disappointed. We cannot know what a friend is going through on the other side of the phone. One of the ways we can be genuine with each other is by making sure the friend on the other end of the line has a moment to give that attention and respond in kind.

            Take precious care to remember that feelings of connectedness are like all feelings: they are generated by your thoughts.

            You can plant your summer garden and as you push your fingers into the dirt, think, I am connected to the Earth.

            You can lie on the floor with your head on your dog and think, I am connected to other living things.

            You can get some string and make a friendship bracelet and think of someone you love tying it to their wrist, and think, I am connected to my friends.

            You can strum the chords of a camp song on your guitar and think, I am connected to the people who love me at Windsor Mountain.

            Because you are.

            It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple and elegant as highs and lows. Music and animals.

            You are not alone in your search for what it means to be truly connected while we are all meant to stand six feet apart. While you think about your own needs, notice the people who are reaching for connection from you.

            While your brain might be tricked to see a person on the screen as something that isn’t “real,” the friend on the other side of your FaceTime call just wants to connect with you. When you’re feeling disconnected, I recommend checking in with a camp friend at the end of the day. They’ll know what you mean when you say, “Want to do highs and lows?”