This I Believe

I Believe In Love - Levi Miller

I believe in love.

I know that seems like the cheesiest damn thing to say. But, I believe in love more than anything. I believe that the power it has over us, can either destroy us, or free us. Love is such an abstract thing, that most people have a hard time defining it without using the word itself. I believe that love has, at many points in my life saved me, but also what I perceived as the absence of love has torn me to pieces.

There are many different types of love floating around in the Universe. I can be “In Love” with a romantic partner. I can love my best friends. I can love a dog I meet on the street. I can love the pasta I had for dinner last night. I can also love myself. However, it is important to note, that each of these different types of love can be forgotten if you don’t work to remind yourself of their existence.

The Variety Pack of Love

As I have learned to appreciate this variety pack of love that the universe has provided, I have discovered the most important, and likely the best kind, is the love I have found for myself. While I’ve spent the last few years processing the various demons of my past, I learned that if you have love and compassion for yourself, being alone with your thoughts becomes infinitely easier. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy spending time with myself before I loved myself. I can’t imagine how I could’ve expected others to want to spend time with me while I was pretending my way through the world, each day pasting on one of many rehearsed smiles.

People are often inspired by my story and ask how I knew it was time to begin this journey truth is that I had finally pushed enough people away, that I had nobody else around to expect love from. I had only myself, a Netflix subscription, and the four walls of my college dorm room. I spent countless nights awake trying to avoid my thoughts by watching as many female centric dramas as I could get my hands on. I would sleep all day, only getting up to eat and use the bathroom. Then, I would do it all over again day after day. It was a miserable existence. But, I learned, that no matter how loud I had those headphones turned up, there was always a little voice somewhere in me that was louder.

The voice said, “love”. That was it.

It said “love”; over, and over, and over again.

The voice had always been there. I had just run out of things to cover it up.There are only so many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to watch. One night, I was lying in bed having an existential crisis because Netflix kept asking if I was still there and I, for one, take that very personally. As I laid there in my crusty sweatpants and dirty sheets, I let my mind wander to the last time I felt real, genuine self-love.

That was at camp.

I eventually wandered away from Netflix to find the home page of the summer camp I had attended for one summer as a 13-year-old. This was the beginning of what has been the greatest life changing adventure, I think, in history. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But, I applied to work for 10 weeks. Five years later, I realize I had no damn clue what I was doing at the time. I guess sometimes it’s a blessing to be young and dumb.

I remember the first couple of nights during staff training I cried a lot. One kind soul saw my puffy eyes as I tried to get back to my cabin without anybody seeing me. She forced me into conversation in a dark gazebo, in the middle of the woods, at midnight. I thought she would try to murder me.

Then, we talked, and we talked, and the sun started to come up as I finally had the courage to say what I’d been holding in. “ I hate myself” I blurted out before I could catch the words and pull them back into my throat.

“You clearly love yourself enough to come here and talk about yourself.” That was the response. Not, a hug, or sympathetic tears. Just that. But, she was so right.

I later learned that the better phrasing of that ugly statement is something like, “I hate… about how I’m acting right now.” Or “I hate… about how I handled that.”. But, I suppose I can’t go back and change the things I said about myself then. I only control the love I give myself right now.

I believe that once the soul knows the taste of loving itself, it’ll never go back. I learned that at camp.

21557493_10155510824456011_87938218879495261_n-150x150.jpg

Levi Miller
Day Camp Coordinator
Camp Jewell YMCA

Summer Camp Leads To Self-Discovery by Hannah Weiner

I believe summer camp leads to self-discovery.

When I was ten years old, I started going to an overnight camp in the Detroit suburbs. The camp, while dear to my heart, offered nothing special: Jewish programming, crafts, sports, a manmade lake. But I returned year after year, even embarking on their specialty outdoor tripping camps. I’d return home a smelly, swearing, smiling version of myself, and it would last me most of the school year.

The summer I was ten, I learned I could beat the boys at floor hockey. The summer I was twelve, I learned how to hike.Each summer fostered a love (or strong distaste) for something new: a love of stir fry, a deep hatred for the Blob, a love of kayaking. I knew my summer self strongly. I knew what I liked, I knew what I disliked, which meant I knew what I valued.

224308_1007819116883_6917_n.jpg

Camp exposed me to things I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced (i.e. stir fry, kayaking, etc.). And those things are awesome—they lead to great stories and picturesque memories. Yet in between those moments of trying new things and learning to love something (or someone), I learned how to try new things, how to love something, and how to love people fiercely.

And, if you are lucky enough, camp will teach you how to love yourself.

Like most people who went to camp, I met many of my greatest friends from my years at camp. These people understand me on a core level. We don’t need to exchange pleasantries because we just appreciate each other’s presence. For a thirteen year-old who felt so insecure and so different from everyone else in school, it meant the world to me that I could retreat to a place where people found the good in me.

At camp, without makeup or screens or bedrooms to disappear in, I lived vulnerably with others. At camp, our counselors taught us to embrace the weirdness and uniqueness within ourselves; sure, it was weird that I laughed much harder at fart jokes than anyone else my age, but I was accepted and loved. At camp, we could do ridiculous Russian accents, we could do a slip ’n’ slide slide on a rainy day and laugh at our muddy faces, and we could swap secrets at night, silently understanding our cabin’s holiness was to be respected. We loved each other not despite our faults, secrets, and strange quirks, but because of them.

199356_4344938325_1471_n.jpg

Now, as a representative of camp, parents ask me at camp fairs, “So, what is your camp about?” And I respond, passionately using words like “friendship” and “leadership skills” and “self-confidence.” I can repeat those words all I want—wrap it in a bow and call it “personal development,” but camp specializes in the intangibles, the indescribables, and the invisible. Camp taught me to love, to be loved, and to get weird with others. That’s not easy to market, nor is it easy to explain the value to young parents

The camp experience is different for every kid: other campers hated kayaking and the outdoors or loved being the star of the camp play. Those are amazing things to recognize as a child, and maybe they would have discovered that without camp. But there is power in knowing yourself. There is power in learning how to find your niche. And, most importantly, there is power in learning yourself alongside a bunch of other kids who are learning themselves, somewhere in the woods.

hannah-1-150x150.jpg

Hannah Weiner
Assistant Director for Camper Development
Fleur de Lis Camp