Friday, July 20, 2007

I’m sitting down to write at my first opportunity so far, and I don’t know where to begin. I arrived at camp last Sunday after an adventure which took me on too many turnpikes and toll roads and got me lost in the Bronx. But when I finally found my way to Omega Teen Camp, I found a place of indescribable beauty and positivism. When I think back to the miserable days I spent at camp or in youth groups or even Peru—for that matter, any situation involving numerous people I didn’t know—I’ve always felt like the outsider. I have never been able to make friends easily. I use to be too shy. Now I’m told I intimidate people. I don’t know how to not intimidate people. They should get some aplomb themselves. I have never been able to find that many people that I like in general. But here there’s some sort of strange phenomenon where 40 completely unique people are able to make a true community because they, in and of themselves, are so whole and good. There is nothing but love here, genuine, not the forced or fake acceptance I remember from church. There is no segregation, no cliqueyness, no unspoken conflict. It’s an incredible sensation to be in this kind of energy, especially backdropped with acres of dewy Northeastern forest and overgrown stone walls winding over the hills.

Right now I’m sitting in the café of the Omega Institute, about a half hour from camp, having a kind of vacation with the staff before the kids arrive on Sunday. I’m full of delicious organic vegan whole foods and relaxed by the air and the sun and the distance between me and my life in Indiana.

Yesterday was our last day of orientation. I spent most of the day practicing my long-forgotten technique on the potter’s wheel on the porch of the art hut while it rained warm and hard through the afternoon. Before dinner, I went for a run in the drizzle and explored winding paths and meadows. In the evening, a man called Medicine Bear came and led us in an Iroquois peace pipe ceremony around a fire (that he started with a bow and drill). He gave us all a handful of tobacco and we said a prayer over it and cast it into the fire. I prayed that I would find my path. Then I watched the glowing tobacco ashes that were spit back from the violent hot center of the flame and fluttered over me like drops of baptismal water.

The man who works in the kitchen is named Robert and he’s a trained chef and the owner of a bread bakery in Omaha. We’ve adopted each other as friends, and he’s become my jolly, middle aged, white sage with sparkling gray eyes—everyone’s eyes seem to sparkle here. The first night we took a walk to the house on the lake where he’s staying and I told him all of my confusion and pain and lost-ness. Then he told me something about myself that I’ve always known and never really had realized by another person: that I’m intuitive. Well, of course I am, but not just in the obvious way, but in the way I’ve been guided in my life, the way I’ve always had a sense of what I needed to do or what I wanted to be or how things would work out, even when it seemed insane or irrational to others. It’s been the source of all the confusion and self-doubt and isolation in my life, because I haven’t ever allowed myself to trust it completely, even when I end up acting on it. Just like coming here. Coming to this camp was not the practical thing for me to do, especially financially, but I knew I had to. I knew I had to be here, that it would be the next step in my life, and work out all of the strange struggles within me that I can’t even name. I knew. He told me that others may think I’m floundering or directionless or not to be taken seriously because I make decisions like waiting until I’m older to go to school or because I know I want to do (not just try but DO) things that I know virtually nothing about—like making goat cheese. But really, I’m passionate, and I know myself beyond my experiences, and I can’t let the limitations or the needs of others define or set the boundaries for my own life. It was profound. Today, I arrived at the Omega Institute and felt so at home and so at peace. Robert and I walked through the library, leaving our shoes and our voices at the door, reverently absorbing the beauty and sacredness of the books and the feel of life and the wholeness of human experience that I’ve always craved and sought and which feels so good and so impossible at the same time. I somehow knew I’d find it here, this pure, organic joy that comes with a way of living as part of the earth and loving people as part of you. I could stay here forever, I could stay in this peace forever, with these people forever. I can only hope I can give a piece of this to these kids who come next week. If I’d been exposed to this when I was that age, I would have had so much less pain and so much less self-loathing in my life, even now. I spent so many years hating myself because I couldn’t function in the “world” and being lonely because felt disconnected and different from other people. Now I realize that what I’ve lived up until now isn’t the real world at all and that those people were disconnected from themselves.

This is the poem Robert read to me:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford