I was 13 when my family spent our first summer in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. My father was a professor by school-year and a camp director by summer. Each summer we packed up our summer things, loaded the car, and all piled in (including the cat), and drove the 8 hours straight north to our little neck of the woods on Long Lake.
On the grounds of this camp I ran free, like I could never do in the suburbs back home. I would wave to my parents as I occasionally passed them on my way to catch bullfrogs in the cove, jump in the lake to layout on the swim raft, or bribe the boat driver to take me water skiing after hours.
At camp I did every job imaginable. Mostly I was on teen staff, where in theory we were to clean the cabins and the other buildings, however reality found us messing around and joy-riding in camp vehicles. I ran the craft shop one summer, another I painted, another I was a counselor, worked in the kitchen, and went on wilderness trips.
Camp was a place apart. My summers were a delightful giant pause in the regular flow of life where everything simplified and slowed down. In this slower pace of life relationship had the space to grow. A single symbolism of this phenomenon was the campfire with its quiet conversation.
With no TV or radio or distraction the campfire is just what we did. Evening would fall, and we would gather around the fire. As we sang praise songs to God I felt His warm presence envelope me like the darkness and smoke around. We gazed into the jumping, dancing flames and we talked.
Around these campfires we told our stories. The stories matured and grew more complex as I aged, but the theme remained the same; with the sharing of ourselves in this intimate circle of safety we learned about ourselves and our world. I heard many of the same stories told over and over, yet without fail new ideas would be presented. Whether it was a group of strangers on a wilderness trip, a group of 7th grade campers, or a bunch of friends sneaking off for the night, we would listen to one another, poke at the embers, and join in each other’s journey.
In the telling of our stories around campfires I learned the gift of conversation. I began to understand, even before I could put words on it, that to know and be known happens in the telling of our stories. In authentic conversation.
Today I am blessed to have a cabin across the lake from the camp of my childhood. My children now have this sacred place as their summer playground. This past week a girlhood friend has been up enjoying the Northwoods. In the evenings we have built our campfire and settled in for conversation. Our circle has been small. Just the two of us. Yet, despite our age, our kids running amok around us, and the complications of life and love we find ourselves in today, the format is the same. As we give the gift of our unique stories to one another, we find how similar we are. Just as the fire organically moves and dances with ease, so does our conversation, and without even realizing exactly when it happened, we find that we received an even greater gift; we are known.
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