In the summer of 2012, I fell blissfully in love. It was the first time I had ever been so overwhelmingly happy that I had to share it with the world. I felt like sunlight radiated from my pores. It was the only thing I could talk about, the only thing I could think about.
It was my first (and only) year as a counselor at SEP. I wasn’t in love with an individual, I was in love with a feeling. I was in love with the group of people who gave me that feeling. And like any first love, I didn’t realize what I had until it was almost over.
Standing on a porch that was drowning in early morning sunlight, I felt something new in the pit of my stomach (and not just the pancakes my friend had made). Like I was a character in a magical realism novel, I began to feel a fire within my body – in the space where my ribs meet, a few inches above my belly button, I felt a warmth that spread through my body to my fingertips and beyond. It was a feeling so fulfilling that I have searched for it everyday since. It has become my goal to find happiness that infects my body the way it did that August morning.
Six weeks earlier, I filled a suitcase with summer clothes, towels and toiletries, and other essentials. Just minutes from my house, I was ready to go on the adventure of a lifetime. I thought I knew what to expect – accepting people, a fun time, a learning experience – I had no idea I would find my people.
Up to that point, I thought I already found my people – friends who knew me and understood me, teammates who cheered me on, and family who always had my back. But you can’t know what it’s like to find your people until you’ve truly found them. So in addition to gaining the things I expected to at camp that summer, I finally found my people. And they were nothing like what I expected; they ranged from a frat bro with an extensive shoe collection to a heavily-pierced camp newbie to a pair of sisters who had lived all over the world. They were people who initially intimidated me, people who were interesting and cool and intensely intelligent. But the way I just described those few people doesn’t do them justice; they were so much more than one description. Because the frat bro? He is also an incredible artist, a fiercely loyal friend, and a ridiculously funny storyteller with a talent for funny faces. And the heavily-pierced newbie? She is one of the most adaptable, supportive people I have ever met, who gave us all sentimental necklaces after only a week of knowing us. And the sisters? They are reliable and dependable and always willing to stand up for a friend. They are amazingly independent and perfectly unique and they taught me that love for a sibling can be the strongest kind. These people I just described are only 4 of the 13 people I fell in love with that summer. Some of the others became irreplaceable pillars of confidence in my life. One gave me the strength to push for what is right, no matter the consequences. Another taught me to love my body in all of its uniqueness. One showed me that redheads always have the most fun. And they all taught me to believe in myself, to fight for myself, and to love myself.
This may all seem overly-emotional and corny, it may feel repetitive, or it may seem out of the blue. But there is method to my madness. Two nights ago, I learned that this summer, SEP will not take place. And while this shouldn’t (and logistically doesn’t) affect me, my heart broke. I thought about all the campers, counselors, and other staff members who, with one email, just lost the chance to find their people. SEP fosters friendships, relationships, and people-finding.
But if I know the children of SEP, the passionate, talented, and caring young adults I’ve come to know over the years, this won’t be the end. Camp will come back, stronger than ever, with people who have a renewed zest for connection. The SEP legacy is forever and I have no doubt that this is not the end. And to all my SEP babies, my junior counselors who are now leaders and my campers who are college-bound superheroes: don’t worry, you’ll find your people. You already have.
Never forget, “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”