Every Moment Matters

June 26, 2012
By Anonymous

“Tag!” I hear the simple word and feel a light tap on my knee. I look down to see a three-year old boy smiling up at me mischievously, expecting me to chase after him. This is my first night at Camp Sunshine, where I am volunteering as a Tot Lot counselor. The first night is meant to welcome the families, but it feels more like their children are welcoming me. Little kids are all over the place, running and playing with each other and as I run around with them, I feel my initiation to camp is complete. The simple word “tag” has pulled me into my first Camp Sunshine experience. It is a moment I will never forget.

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting when I arrived in Casco, Maine and walked through the bright yellow door of Camp Sunshine’s main building. I had heard a little about the camp before, and knew it to be a place for children with life threatening illnesses to go with their families and enjoy a normal camp experience. To me, it sounded like a great idea, and so I seized the opportunity when one of my teachers from school invited my class to volunteer with him. It didn’t take us long to realize that Camp Sunshine was so much more than a camp – it was a second home.

Since we volunteered during Oncology week, each family we met had a child who either used to have cancer or was currently fighting it. As a Tot Lot counselor, I spent the week playing with three to five year olds, some of which were cancer patients, while others were the siblings of those cancer patients. As we played board games, watched movies, and role played house and doctor, I was shocked at how easily I forgot that some of these kids were sick. I forgot that some of them were going through chemotherapy and that a few of them only had a fifty-fifty chance of making it to next year. It was those children in particular who struck me as extremely mature for their age. They didn’t want to cry or be sad, and they didn’t want to be babied by us. They simply wanted to play, and so play with them we did. Their smiles were purely contagious and I treasured every moment I spent with them.

But it was from the parents that I learned the big lessons. The parents were the ones who had to live knowing their child could be taken from them at any time. Seeing how happy the children acted all day, I realized that living with such knowledge was truly a burden. As I sat with the families and got to know their stories, the parents imparted to me a perspective on life that comes from having a child diagnosed with cancer. This perspective is one that I intend to always remember as I live my own life.

They explained that no one – not even the healthy – is necessarily guaranteed a full life. Accidents happen every day and lives can be taken at any time for reasons completely outside our control. Therefore, we shouldn’t pity these children for their unfortunate situations, but make as many happy memories with them as we can. We are all in danger of dying at any moment and so it’s important to realize just how much every moment matters.

When it came time to say goodbye, my fellow classmates and I found it extremely difficult to part with all of the new friends we had made. Those kids had unknowingly taught us that the “problems” we complained about in our everyday lives really weren’t as bad as we’d made them out to be. Getting to know them taught us to appreciate all that we do have. As we played with them on the last day, the children understood they were leaving but didn’t want to be sad. They were simply enjoying their time at camp to its fullest, choosing not to waste time choking over goodbyes or thinking about what might happen to them in the future. They understood, I think without realizing it, what it means to make every moment matter.

There are no real words to describe what it’s like to be surrounded by kids with such strength, from whom you can learn more about life within a short week than you ever could in a whole year of schooling. I could write on forever about what Camp Sunshine is like, but I think the simple word “tag” does a pretty good job of summing it up. When a child tags you, you feel their struggle for survival. You feel their family’s love for them. And you feel the happiness, hope, and determination that have grown strong inside of them. You sense that in that moment all that really matters is playing tag with them. So you play, and keep them smiling for as long as you possibly can.

The author's comments:
I wrote this piece after spending a week volunteering at Camp Sunshine with a nine other classmates and two teachers. It truly was an unforgetable and life-changing experience.

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