I just finished reading a collection of short stories called The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol. They were powerful and masterfully written. The scenes were scattered among geographies and lots in life, but revolving around Jewish identities, communism and the red scare. The writing was vivid, palpable and astonishingly detailed. And though I couldn't articulate the literary themes across the stories like someone with an English degree may be able to, I could feel them, knowingly and deeply. They had something to do with loneliness, secrets and utter human frailty.
Earlier this month, James and I were in a bind. James needed to be in Kenya during the same time I needed to be in Los Angeles. For the first seven years of our marriage, this was not a problem. But now we're parents, it's not so simple. What were we going to do with Jude? Enter Pap Camp.
That's right - Jude's Grandpap (and Lovey) said they just happened to be taking enrollments to camp at their home in San Diego during the very week that we needed help! Luckily, we got our application in on time and there was one spot open for a 15-month-old boy! Jude and I flew to San Diego to drop him off at his very first camp. We couldn't believe what we found.
Okay, first - here were the camp counselors for the week.
Here's Lovey greeting Jude at the airport.
And here's Pap. (We made sure that Jude came with his camp uniform: a smaller version of Pap's blue polo shirts):
Okay, now onto the Camp itself. We took a tour of the facilities, and I mean, are you kidding me? #BestCampEver
I was sad to say goodbye to my baby, but I felt pretty comfortable heading up to L.A. for a few days while he attended his first camp. The photos that the counselors sent along the way confirmed that he had a pretty grand time.
Jude was given his own customized Pap Camp hat upon arrival to the pool.
Daily walks to Mission Bay (by way of wagon) to swing, play in the sand, and blow kisses to all the strangers.
Afternoon playtime indoors in Jude's Clubhouse.
Lunch dates with matching polos.
Putting on Pap's hat and cheering for himself each time.
I came back to pick Jude up from camp, and he wasn't very interested in leaving. Thanks for an amazing adventure, Pap and Lovey! We can't wait to come back again!
It's amazing how quickly we can forget our own stories. We are inundated with the immediate pressures of today, and if we are lucky, we find time to look ahead with vision for the weeks or year to come. But how much time do we spend considering where we have come from? I realize that I have not spent enough time remembering my own story.
Last weekend, James and I drove several hours through winding mountain roads to find ourselves in a secret garden and quaint lodge at the foot of the Smoky Mountains. We joined an intimate gathering of some staff, board members, Jars of Clay and their spouses, and special donors to the organization.
In the serenity of nature, simplicity and community, our stories were drawn out of us - stories of what Dan saw on his first visit to Africa, of writing the name Blood:Water Mission on the plane home, of a wise and thoughtful friend who ensured that Jars of Clay and I meet, of what it was like for me as a college student to hear their vision, and of the 25-page proposal I wrote on my Thanksgiving break to suggest how we could start Blood:Water Mission.
Stories of driving across the country to Tennessee with my dad, moving into the basement of the Haseltine's home, beginning work in the basement of an old church in Franklin, our first tears together in an AIDS hospice in South Africa, our first dollars raised, our struggles to raise more, and the people who came along at the perfect time to keep this mission alive.
There is delight and wonder in remembering. "What we were thinking?" we asked ourselves. "Can you believe we made it through that?" we wondered soberly. "Do you remember the surprise of that first time we collected dollar bills for Kenya?" we smiled.
On Saturday afternoon, Dan, Charlie, Matt, Steve and I sat together outside among the audience of God's great beauty, and we reflected on the stories of where we have come from. It has been painful, exhilarating, disappointing, beautiful - all of it. We sat there, circled together, with the blue ridge mountains as our witness, and affirmed that we are blessed to be a part of such a story. And then we took the great leap to dream about where we are going next, and we cannot wait for the stories that will come as a result of this new chapter of ours.
But we could not have done that until we had remembered where we came from.
Our stories can teach us, time and time again.
What stories ought you to remember?
May you be as blessed as we were in the important and sacred act of remembering.
Two weeks ago, I accidentally stood up for the wrong person. And I got in trouble for it. Our neighborhood association meets once a month in a small room that holds about 20 people. The seats are scattered with young white urban professionals and aging black residents who have lived on these streets for most of their lives. Our guest speaker was a representative from a waste management company that is proposing to re-purpose a warehouse in our neighborhood for trash collection.
He used a power point presentation to show us their plans. Meanwhile, a couple of our members who had been in the neighborhood for years began heckling the man - insulting him for mispronouncing our street names, yelling at him to stop using the word "waste" and call it what it is: "GARBAGE!" The nice man couldn't get a word in, and I was so embarrassed by our rude neighbors.
So, here's where I messed up: I stood up for the man. I literally stood up and instead of calling my neighbors out for simply being rude, I called us all out for not recognizing that trash, ultimately, has to go somewhere. I stood on my soap box and referred to my experiences in Africa and how each person in a community is responsible for their own trash. I channeled Wendell Berry and spoke about how we need to be responsible for the waste we create. I shamed my neighbors and sat back down.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Just because someone is nice doesn't mean they're right. And just because someone is rude, doesn't mean they aren't justified in their anger. It turns out that this waste management company is not for our residential trash. It is for corporations that would bring outside garbage and dump it just a few blocks from our homes. My fellow neighbors made sure I understood what I was standing up for.
They had every right to be angry with the man, and with me. They lived here years before families like ours ever deemed it safe to inhabit. This neighborhood had been a dump for years, filled with crime, drugs, prostitution and insurmountable urban poverty. For the last ten years, the conditions have been improving and the streets have become safer. Much of this is because of the passionate and aggressive voices of neighbors like the ones who spoke up at the meeting. The last thing our neighborhood needs is another signpost that says we are still the ghetto or another young white urban professional to stand on the side of corporate power.
So, I am the one who is ashamed. If ever there are sides to be taken in my neighborhood, I want to be on the side of the residents who have fought long and hard battles amidst discrimination and limited resources. We have collected more than 800 signatures for a petition to keep the waste management company out, and Metro Council votes tonight. I hope my neighbors will someday trust me again. I have learned my lesson and am humbled by it.