Every year, for the past few years, three days after the last bell has rung at school, I get to escape. I am able to run away to find another part of myself amoung other people. I load up an old, torn up bag that I could possibly fit inside of, jump into the car, and wait for an uncountable amount of laughs and memories. A week later, after it all passes in the blink of an eye, one the last night, we settle down after our last dance under the lights, and we talk about our favorite memories. We talk about which staff is our favorite, what each group did, or which challenge was the hardest. In the end we all laugh and cry at these moments that we will remember for a lifetime. One memory was taken down in time, for all of us to remember and for others to see, captured by the flash and click of a camera. The moment will forever be a reminder that we all move on. Even if it’s difficult, we must all go on in life.
After dark, when the tears aren’t visible, and the crickets hum soft songs to us, we all sat on what we could find. Chairs, stumps, and boulders, all in a circle. One ring of chairs on the ground and lifted a bit higher were stumps and rocks. On the top where people who haven’t been at camp more than once. I was proud to be on the lower level with others who have been there for more than one year. These were the best friends I could have asked for. Looking around at everyone in the the circle, we were all still dressed for the dance, in our freshly oiled cowboy boots, dark, starched jeans, steamed cowboy hats, and pressed button up shirts. Many people are swaddled in large blankets. Other people were hugging for warmth in the cool Arizona air. Then there were people from farther North who were enjoying the cool air, rather than suffering in the boiling heat of the day. We still had tears in our eyes from my confession of the hard year I’ve had and how these friends helped me through it. This group of people, each and every one of them are the rock that I anchor myself upon. Everyone has a slight smile on their face as we all gaze into the circle. My heart is warmed by the sight of such a group in one place. In the center there is a small fire crackling and burning in the near pitch black night. In front of the fire there are six tree stumps with blankets bundled on top of them. There are 18 people standing on the other side of the fire. 9 are directly behind the fire and 9 are slightly to left of the first group. This is the new camp staff and the old staff. In the back is the new, to the left is the old. It is time for both groups to move on to the next step. Both groups are huddled around candles with their backs to the camera. One candle has the year “2016” written on it, the other has “2017”. You can hear sniffles of the people who don’t want others to age out, of those who won’t be returning, and of those who were touched by the stories that were shared. Myself and others close to me where sobbing as we saw our favorite staff about to blow out their last flame. The old staff is blowing out the flame of 2016, and the new staff is lighting the way for 2017.
The empty stumps in the middle mark another year gone by. The circle reminds us all that we are one in this complicated world. The dwindling fire behind the stumps is almost nothing but coal and smoke. As it disappears, we all know we have to move on in life. Our hearts have been ripped out, and stitched together, as we are all one family now. The events of the week brought together this random group of teens that taught us all something. There was not a lack of lessons in this week, nor was there a lack of seriousness in the fun. From learning that we all need help to figure out the maze that is life, to throwing each other over a ten foot wall to achieve teamwork, we have all created a life long bond. Into the flames, the memories go. Everything extinguishes with every tear and moment that passes. The two groups around the candles bring tears to everyone’s eyes. We must all give this paradise up and go home in the end. We will be sure to not forget what we have learned and who we have met.
Alyssa is holding her final candle near her face as she blows it out. It is her last year in 4-H, and her last at camp. I shed a tear as the flame flashes away and my first friend walks into the unforgiving world. Next to her is Josh, barely visible in his all black attire. It is his last year as staff, but he will continue to join the campers for another year. He has always been an inspiration to myself and others. He reminds me that there is a light at the end of a dark and lonely tunnel. The lessons from him are ones we will never let go. The people surrounding them will miss them dearly. They made the camp happen and they brought so many smiles to the faces of kids from all over Arizona and New Mexico. They would stay an extra week and show up a week early to set everything up and clean it all after we have left. They also worked for hours each month to pull together this memorable place. In the background Jerry and MJ are taking pictures of the new staff. The light from their flash glares in the image. They are focused on the new staff lighting their candle. Only their backs are visible in the shadow of their new light. Arman, my best friend, is on the edge of the group. He has impacted many lives during his time in 4-H, and he never let me give up or run away. I knew he was always there for me, even when he was 200 miles away. Jessica is to his right. She was easy to be myself around and everyone loved her never failing positive attitude . Emily is to her right. Emily radiated light wherever she went, and she was wise about the ways of the world for only being 17. Someday I hope to be as important as each of them. All of our eyes were on them, tears or none, we kept them in sight.
Afterwards we all congregated in the middle of the circles. We hugged and cried into the night among the tall and dark evergreen trees. Everyone said their sad goodbyes to the New Mexico Dips and Dors. They would not be able to return the following year, but we all treasure the time we get with them. My best friends hugged me with tears in their eyes and assured me that they were only a phone call away. The new and old staff gave me a group hug and told me that next year would be my year. Next year I would be standing with them in that circle getting ready to lead the new campers. With a fresh wave of tears, I nodded and knew it would be true. After nearly an hour of an emotional roller coaster, we walked back to our rooms and tried to wash the smell of smoke out of our hair, and went to bed. Until next year, it is time to move on with new lessons learned, new friends made, and new memories to look back on. With a wave of my hand, and tip of my hat, it is all taken back to the fire. Saying goodbye to the old can be difficult. Holding on could be worse. Sometimes holding onto the rope of the past can hurt more than letting it go. We must all learn to move on with smiles on our faces, and lessons in our hearts, and be ready to go on our next adventure.