The Summer Camp Allegory

Covered Bridge at Camp Falling Rock

Sorry for the lack of posts last week; I spent the week off-line at Boy Scout summer camp.  For the past four years, I’ve spent a week out of each summer with our Troop at Camp Falling Rock.  I like going to summer camp: sleeping in tents, working in the program areas, eating in the Dining Hall, enjoying the camp fires, sharing in the camp staff’s shenanigans.  It reminds me of the summers I spent working on the staff at Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp.  For a week, I can be one of the Lost Boys back in Neverland.

This year at camp, I set the goal of earning the BSA Lifeguard certification.  My friend and fellow Scoutmaster Paul S. gave me the inspiration when we were back at the Alfred University Reunion.  I knew the certification could help our Troop when we plan our next canoe trip.  I didn’t know how much was involved in earning the BSA Lifeguard, but I figured it couldn’t be too difficult.  I made my best-laid plans to earn the certification, help our boys with their merit badges, and do some deep thinking on my life’s goals.  Heck, I even packed a bunch of books so I could catch up on my reading.

But the BSA Lifeguard was a lot more involved than I had anticipated.  Thirty hours of instruction and observation!  It’s a week-long program, all by itself.  I swear, I’ve received more training as a Boy Scout leader over the past few years than I’ve received from all of my employers combined over my entire twenty-five-year career.  There was no way around it, if I wanted to earn my certification, I’d be spending every morning and afternoon, and a couple of my evenings too, at the camp’s pool.

Earning the BSA Lifeguard was my highest goal.  I would have to let go of all of the other goals.

It was surprisingly easy for me to accept that decision.  Normally, I’d resist such a total commitment, my mind endlessly second-guessing the decision, playing “what if” games.  This time, however, I was given the necessary resolve to stand by my decision – it just felt right – and I experienced a peace of mind that helped me through the physical and mental demands of the week.  It also gave me insights into my life’s goal-setting efforts:

  • For the past four years, I’ve attended Camp Falling Rock’s summer camp as a scout leader.  While I enjoyed all four years, each camp was a completely different experience from the others.
  • There are so many different things that can be done at summer camp.  It’s exciting to think about all the different possible activities that you can experience.  However, with only one week of time available, it’s impossible to experience all the activities available.  You have to make a choice.
  • Choosing an activity naturally excludes all the other possibilities.
  • All the choices have pros & cons.  This time I chose BSA Lifeguard, but I could have made a hundred other choices: archery, canoeing, climbing, hiking, hanging out, swimming, pioneering, napping, cooking, kayaking, shooting, leatherworking, pottery, reading, whitling, even doing nothing at all.  All these and more were possibilities.  All had consequences, but there was no “right” choice, only the best choice for me at the time.
    • There have been times in the past when I didn’t take the time to consider all of the possibilities that I had available to me.
    • There have been times in the past when I was unwilling to commit to a choice for fear that I would miss out on an even better choice.
  • Choosing the BSA Lifeguard exposed me to new goals and experiences that I couldn’t have anticipated.  It also brought me into contact with people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, people who became new friends. 
    • One of my classmates suggested that we all should earn the Mile Swim award.  I had never earned, nor even considered attempting the mile swim as a scout.  Yet that new goal took hold of my thoughts and wouldn’t let go.  Could I swim a mile?  I had to find out.
    • I was concerned going into the week that the actual lifeguarding work would be one long, boring drag.  Watching others while they’re having fun has never been my idea of a good time.  Instead, I found the lifeguarding time to be very rewarding as I practiced my not-thinking, remaining in the moment, simply experiencing the pool.
      • When thoughts of regret for opportunities missed in other activity areas would occur, I’d quickly recognize them as the enemy.  Not-thinking allowed me to simply release those thoughts instead of fighting with them.  This helped me to feel a peace and a sense of belonging.
  • What I choose to do doesn’t really matter anyway.
    • Achieving the Mile Swim goal was no big deal, once it was done.  It was only important to me while it was still in the future as an unknown.  On Wednesday, the daily quote in my planner read:
    • Not in reward, but in the strength to strive, the blessing lies. — J.T. Trowbridge
    • I’m grateful for that bit of serendipity.  It gave me the wisdom to focus on enjoying the experience of the mile swim, being in the moment.  The details of the moment became profound – the way the waves refracted the light that played across the pool bottom, the way my body felt as it moved through the water – that was worthwhile.
    • Focusing on reaching the goal made me tense and self-critical; everything became more difficult in that frame of mind.  Focusing on the moment allowed me to relax and enjoy the experience. 
    • The goals set simply provided direction.  That direction opened new vistas to be explored and set the boundaries in which to play.
    • I needed the help and support of others to realize my goals.  Along the way, I supported others in realizing their goals.
  • Ultimately, our most important achievements are the relationships that we build along the way.  All the rest is just window dressing.

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