A Hero’s Journey: Karen Elizabeth

Karen would prefer to remain “unsearchable”, so her last name remains a secret.  A clue: she is married to me.  There’s a nice tribute at the end to the hero’s heroes.

The Mundane World: I was in the second semester of my sophomore year at college, and was trying to sort out what I would do with my summer. I had spent the prior summer on a six-week study tour in France, and had gotten the taste of what it could be to spend my time in new and different places with people I had never expected to meet. I was craving a similar experience, and simply was not sure where to get it. Amidst one of my best years of college – one which I desperately did not want to end – I knew I needed something equally as spectacular for my summer, or I would be desperately bored and a bit depressed.

The Call To Adventure: I had spent a few weeks each summer as a “Partner” counselor for Camp Midicha, Copneconic’s diabetic partner camp. I loved these weeks fiercely, but had never been ready to commit a whole summer to being away from my beloved family and friends. This year, just like prior years, I called up camp and asked if I could again work as a counselor.

Crossing The Threshold: I spoke to Jim Delp on the phone, and I had expected for him to sign me up for Midicha. Instead, he asked me if I would be joining camp as a counselor for the whole summer. There was a definite moment on the phone where I was totally uncertain, and the answer could have gone either way. A flash of summer at home with the same old question, “What do you want to do?” flashed through my mind, and I said “yes” to Jim. Yes, the whole summer. I believe that quick decision was the beginning of my crossing the threshold, but in all reality the fact that I did not call back in the next few weeks to change my mind solidified that decision. In fact, I think I had to cross the threshold three times – once on the phone, once simply by not calling back, and once on the drive up to camp before staff training. I always found that drive terrifying. During my Midicha days I always felt sick to my stomach, and the part where I drove over the little camp bridge and entered main camp was always the worst. You never knew where anyone was going to be, and it didn’t matter anyway because even if you did find them, you wouldn’t know who they were. So, finally crossing that camp bridge without turning around and darting back home to my safe little cocoon was the ultimate crossing.

The Path of Trials: This is where things get complicated. Of course I had trials that first summer. I had to get over my “you are nice” aura that seemed to emanate from me. A perception that, while “nice,” was equally annoying for someone who actually had quite of lot of edge to her back home. I had to socialize with people who were incredibly intimidating to me because they all seemed so confident and cool. I had to sing “A Little Fall of Rain” from Les Miserables to the entire camp, completely on my own, while dressed in my pajamas and holding a stuffed gorilla. I had Ebony in my cabin. (If you were at camp during Ebony’s era, then that statement is enough for you to understand.) Despite these trials, this summer was only the beginning of my camp journey, which was soon to be interrupted by the beginning of a completely different journey.

I finished that first summer absolutely sold on camp. I cried as hard as anyone else when it finished, and I was certain I would be back next year. I then went back to college, and proceeded to commence on a hero’s journey sandwiched inside of the camp journey – studying in France. A textbook example of the journey, I had the call to adventure to study in Europe, I crossed the threshold as I filled out applications and paperwork and made decisions that prevented me from turning backwards. I experience a million trials and adventures in France, and I became. I grew in immeasurable ways, and discovered some of the most important things I never knew about myself. Upon returning from those six months away, I truly felt the master of two worlds. I was confident, self-assured, worldly, and ready for anything. Except, for camp.

I have learned that the camp counselor’s second summer at camp is always a bit sad – it’s hard. However, I had a whole new kind of culture shock, going literally directly from a riverside city in France to Camp Copneconic that summer. Everything that had made me so confident and sure with the conclusion of one journey, became part of the trials in my other. I longed for France and hated camp, simply put. All the challenges that were new and exciting that first summer were now simply frustrating, and did not mesh with the new “me” I wanted to be. I cannot say I became master of anything that summer, but I learned about the path of trials.

Master of Two Worlds: My years at camp continued for several after that, all of which carried their own trials and growing moments. When I finally decided to leave camp to pursue my next journey, I finally was able to put into words how much camp had become a part of the development of me. The lessons in being a leader, being a social person, being a mentor, and being humble were immeasurable. And I could not stop sharing these stories in nearly every class or interview I had. Camp is the reason I am who I am in so many ways – a teacher, a wife, a traveler.

And to conclude, I must share about my mentors and guides on this journey at camp. I had many over the years, not the least of which was my husband. My friends and family at home were support in just the right way – understanding that I would disappear every summer but return again in the fall a better person. And of course the staff that started their camp journey at the same time as I did became such important people in my life. But I truly feel that the most profound mentors I had at camp were some of my campers. I find it powerful to see that while I was being a “hero” to them – their mentor, they were also my most powerful heroes during those years. The children taught me of resilience, acceptance, and grace in so many ways. Katie, Janet, and Crystal always come to mind first, but the list is so long. What an amazing thing that heroes can be so reciprocal. Thank you, to all of mine.

One Response to A Hero’s Journey: Karen Elizabeth

  1. Lisa January 16, 2007 at 11:42 pm #

    Amazing. I’m so glad I got to read more about you Karen. And I have to agree, the campers teach us just as much, if not more, than we can teach them.