August 6, 2010
I was seventeen when I learned what love was.

It was at the most unlikely of places, with the most unlikely of people. In my parents’ description, it was summer camp, though in all actuality it was more of a Christian academic camp, and an intense one, at that. Two weeks long, it involved six hour-long sessions a day on subjects ranging from economics to the Biblical metanarative. On top of that, it was held at a college not far from my house. All of these factors led to complete distaste on my part, and I was only willing to do the bare minimum in order to survive the camp.

At seventeen, I was pessimistic and cynical when it came to life. My past was colorful and painful, and I wasn’t one to trust easily. I was also rather judgmental, so when Annie entered my life, I did not let her in without a fight.

Annie was twenty, and had her own painful past. I learned quickly that she was my counselor, and I was therefore required to spend a minimum of an hour a day with her--more, with her plans of shared lunches and one-on-one time. My first impression of her was not a good one; Annie was bubbly and happy, and worst of all, touchy-feely. None of those traits was one that I particularly appreciated in other people, and I immediately made up my mind to stay as far away from her as possible.

My roommate, Lola, a cynic herself, agreed with my plan. We spent the majority of our time discussing how odd Annie was, how fake and annoying we found her. We avoided her as best we could, and yet we found ourselves repeatedly failing. Annie, it seemed, was everywhere, always ready with questions she fired at us with fierce intensity. And that word, love, that she used so freely and passionately, and oddly enough, frequently directed at Lola and me. “I love you, and I want to do so unselfishly,” Annie would say, leaving us confused, distrustful, and secretly intrigued.

It wasn’t something we believed at first. After all, we had just met Annie, and she barely knew us. But she didn’t back down, and at every turn, she proved herself. She had abandoned her boyfriend for those two weeks to devote her time to us, and she took every opportunity to spend time with us. Every night she was waiting with a hug and an “I love you,” a ritual that never went undone. With every discussion we had, Lola and I became more and more interested in this love that Annie seemed so passionate about.

One evening after dinner, we cornered her and demanded an explanation. For the next hour, Annie tried her best to spell out why it was that she felt the way that she did. She told us that she had been praying not only for us for months, but also that she would be able to love us unselfishly. To love us so much that it didn’t matter whether or not we loved her back or showed any sort of appreciation.

It was a foreign concept for me. That’s not to say my life was completely awful, but my run-ins with love had been less than unselfish. I was a child of abuse that had never fully dealt with it, that was still carrying around the scars that made it difficult to trust people. To me, Annie was like an alien: strange and unknown, and a little bit scary.

That conversation was all that it took for Lola to love and trust Annie. But for me, it was a more gradual process. I began to open up about my past and my struggles, but I kept the emotional parts at bay, unwilling to show that vulnerable side of myself.

That ended one night halfway into the camp. During a night session, I became so overwhelmed with the intensity of the last week that I broke down, fleeing from the auditorium to the bathroom. Annie ran after me. I locked myself in a stall and cried into a wad of toilet paper while she remained perched on the bathroom sink, refusing to leave. After awhile, I emerged, completely ready to reenter the session, but with one look in the mirror I knew that I couldn’t. My mascara was all over my face and my eyes and nose were red, and when splashing my face with cold water didn’t get rid of the effects of the crying, I grudgingly followed Annie down to the basement of the building.

It was there on those couches that I spilled my story--all of it, every painful piece of my puzzle. Annie just listened as I sobbed. I had told her previously that I didn’t like people touching me, and so she respected that, until finally, she said that she couldn’t take it anymore. She crawled onto the couch next to me and wrapped her arms around me while I cried. We stayed down in that basement for an hour and a half.

I had never before met someone like Annie. Like me, she had been through her fair share of pain, and yet, she was easily the most loving person I had ever come in contact with. She was optimistic, joyful, and tried to find beauty in everyone and everything, and she was utterly genuine in all that she did and said. Annie left Lola and me speechless.

Most of all, though, she made us want to be better, more loving, more optimistic and kind. While in the beginning we found our entertainment in gossiping about all that we disliked in other campers, we began to branch out and befriend those very people. We baked desserts and made cards for the staff of the camp, including those we didn’t particularly like, and deposited them anonymously. We listened instead of talking, allowed ourselves to be vulnerable to each other, and said “I love you,” and meant it. Our guards came down and we changed, and all in two weeks.

There are people you meet that without knowing it, make such an impact on you that you come out of that moment a changed person. For Lola and me, that person was Annie. It wasn’t deliberate, and it didn’t change our circumstances or our past, but it changed our view of the world and our hearts. Love is an infectious thing--once you get a taste of the real thing, it spreads through you like a disease, and soon you’re spreading it to everyone around you sometimes without even knowing it. All Annie did was care about us, and the impact she made on our lives was incredible.

I share all of this because if I learned nothing else from Annie, it’s that the smallest amount of love can make a huge difference. Try smiling at someone, telling someone that you usually take for granted that you love them. You don’t know what they’re going through in that moment, what they’ve experienced. The next time you make a harsh judgment about someone, redirect your thinking and look for the beauty in that person. Make it your goal to love unselfishly. It’s the most difficult thing you’ll ever do, but in reality, it’s the only true love.

Annie did more in two weeks for two cynical seventeen year olds then their own mothers, sisters, grandmothers. It didn’t matter that it was a Christian academic camp. It didn’t matter that we didn’t like her in the beginning. It didn’t matter that she was only twenty years old, barely three years our senior. It didn’t matter that it was only two weeks. What mattered was that she gave of herself and allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to love us unselfishly. Annie changed our lives, my life, and I won’t ever be the same. I dare you to be an Annie in someone’s life. It might hurt, it might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but I promise you, it will be worth it. I learned what love was at a Christian academic camp at seventeen, and I owe it all to the most unlikely of people, a twenty year old camp counselor named Annie.

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This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

windryder said...
Aug. 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm
i love this. really well written.
Caryd37 said...
Aug. 24, 2010 at 11:22 pm
This is a great article. It is great to be influenced by people when we least expect it. I hope you will always hold onto those lessons and memories. More people need to love others.
martha said...
Aug. 24, 2010 at 10:49 pm
Very interesting and inspiring story, well written and lets us peek into your heart!  I'm glad you shared how God put the three of you together in His timing in such an unlikley way!
amaranth178 said...
Aug. 24, 2010 at 6:15 pm
I think this article is EXCELLENT in terms of inspiration and the way you were able to describe your experience. I feel really happy for you and hope that you excel both in your writing and social life hereafter. have a great day :)
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