When I was six years old I began going to sleep-away camp for eight weeks every summer.
I was a “runt.” (Those of you laughing and murmuring, “You still are!” You should know that I grew to be the tallest member of my biological family!)
I was always the smallest kid in the bunk, on every team, on the girls side of the camp, and at the entire camp, in general. So when it came to size order, I was always in the front of the line.
That was just size.
What I lacked in size meant nothing to me because I made up for it in every possible way in athletics, in muscle, in guts and in sheer will.
I had a reputation.
When I was eight years old and it was College-Week, the pre-cursor to “Color-War,” I was in the tug-a-war competition and I was helping win the competition for my team. During College Week, the camp was divided into four teams. So you would have to compete against all three in order to be in the lead.
I was in the front of the rope. The runt. Largely unorthodox when you think about it. But somehow, no one was going to knock me down. Our team was fierce and we kept winning.
Three tug-a-war’s later, we had a crushing lead over all of the other teams.
Then came the “All-Star” competition. That was the one where they took the strongest members from each age-group and asked for us to compete against the “All- Stars” on the other teams.
This was going on for a very long time. Many rounds of competition. It was a very hot day.
I would not give up.
I had no sense of being tired. No sense of calluses on my hands. No sense of my body, even. No sense of the heat.
I remember the screaming, I remember my counselor screaming my name, the cheering in the background, the feeling of the team moving as one unit as we pulled backwards and ripped that rope to victory.
The entire camp seemed to scream. But all I remember was running into my counselor’s arms. My legs, cradled around her hips and I collapsed inside her large and comforting body. Everything went dark and quiet and at last, I was able to rest.
There was more screaming but I didn’t worry about any of it. She ran me around, threw water on me, tried to wake me, etc. etc. But I was gone. I couldn’t see or hear anything. Everything was dark and black and quiet. It was wonderful.
Ultimately, I was okay. I had fainted in my counselor’s arms. The counselors were not doing a good job of looking out for my well-being, and my nature was to push. I didn’t have the sensibility at age 8 that I was dehydrated or that I might have been at risk of passing out from over-exertion. It never crossed my young mind that I could pass out. I only focused on what was needed of me, which was to win.
It amazes me to remember this now. That I already had this imprint of pushing past what was healthy for me 36 years ago. Maybe even before then.
How long does it take for us to learn a pattern? And how long to unlearn it? Hmmmm...
Well, what I can say is that I am no longer muscling through my life. I have even shed about 12 pounds of muscle (sadly), and do not presently, have that barrier between me and where I need to get to emotionally.
I don’t begrudge the counselors nor the camp for not looking out for me. I look back and see a child who tried to teach me something. She tried to teach me even earlier. On countless occasions. And she has tried to teach me since. That is what I can see now.
How long does it take for us to learn a pattern? And how long to unlearn it?
As I am about to embark on another major surgery, what I see is that I am ready. I feel
compassion for myself. I am listening to a body which is speaking in clear and direct ways, even if they are just quiet whispers.
I am listening.
Nothing else to do now but listen.
And let go of the ropes.
Unless of course, you need me to pull you to safety.