“Sure. I’ll do it.” Sometimes that’s all you need to say to open yourself to a whole new perspective. At least that’s what happened to me. I was in a staff meeting summer of 1998. I loved my job. I was hanging out with teenagers, teaching them about the ways of the world. I was going into classrooms and helping kids dialogue about things they cared about. I got to wear overalls and jeans to work every day. Kids thought I was cool. I thought I was cool. I was a newlywed. I had a house. I had a dog. Life was good. I knew what I knew and I was content with that.
A co-worker came into the staff room meeting all breathless with excitement announcing she had had the most amazing week of her life. I didn’t really know this woman, but I paid attention because she had entered so dramatically. “I went to this camp,” she said. “It’s a camp for kids with cancer and they’re looking for volunteers for next summer. Anyone interested?” The room was dead silent. I don’t know if it was the word “cancer” or the word “volunteer” that muted the place, but there were no bites. Except for me, as I heard myself saying, “sure. I’ll do it.” And that next summer, my life truly changed.
The camp was divided by age groups. I took on the 13-16 year olds in a camping program. We were to cook our own food, put up and sleep in our own tents and use the bathroom in the woods. (Or a porta potty, but given the choice, who the hell would do that?) I had no formal outdoor camping experience except for a little excursion in Israel— where I peed on my shoes regularly— and don’t recall any tents being involved for shelter. Oh. And one other time where I camped with some hard core camping friends who made fun of me for shaving my legs each day and bringing a magnifying mirror and tweezers to shape my brows. So, obviously, this was an odd choice for me. Luckily my tent mate was my co-worker, who, now a year later, I knew well, and she came with a queen size air mattress. Yesssssssss!
I hadn’t thought too much about the cancer part of things. I was just excited to be doing something different. But when I told people what I had volunteered for, they were very taken aback. Faces got all squished up with concern. People would suddenly turn somber and ask me how I was going to, “deal with that?” I had no answer. I had no reference point. I had never, to my knowledge, met a kid with cancer. I started to wonder how these kids were going to be different than my kids that I worked with on a daily basis. Then I started to fret that maybe due to my lack of experience with this particular population, I wouldn’t be affective. Doubt crept into my mind. The drive to Lake Geneva went too quickly. I was there before I knew it. And I couldn’t turn back. I stepped out of the car both frightened and excited. And I was 100% naive as to how meeting and falling in love with these kids, was going to change my life forever…
(For part two, click here.)