Spring Blog Series 2023 – By BSC alumnus and current associate director, Matt “Fish” Eisenman
Last summer, in addition to celebrating Blue Star’s 75th anniversary, I also celebrated some personal camp milestones. It was my 20th summer on staff and my 30th summer at Blue Star. I always loved camp; I never imagined that it would become so foundational to my adult life, lifelong relationships, and my children’s upbringing – but here we are. Often when I reconnect with friends from my camper and early staff days, they ask some version of this question: “Is camp still the same?”
And I think about this a lot – is camp the same? In many ways, and in the most important ways, it is exactly the same. I remember staying at a hotel in town the night before camp (it was the one in Hendersonville that had a mini-golf course and a waterslide inside). Who would be in my cabin and what would they be like? Would I fit in? Would my counselors be as cool as I hoped they would be? While we now “pre-assign” bunks and the race to the front gate to pick your bed in the cabin no longer exists, life in the cabin is pretty much the same. We played many of the same games (rafterball dominated my life as a pioneer boy, and it is still the cabin game). The rhythms of camp life are pretty much the same – cabin clean up, swim, athletics, options, and evening programs. We ask campers to write old-fashioned letters on Shabbat (and most do). Color War and Zimriah are still the camp wide programs campers look forward to on Sundays.
The other core aspect that is the same is that the value of camp – the Blue Star Magic – is not in the daily activities and special programs, but in the relationships built over the course of a session, a season, or multiple summers. The magic is in the conversations shared between bunks, on the athletics fields, walking to the dining hall, and in all of those “little” moments throughout the summer. The magic is in the connection to a counselor that helps a camper through their “homesick” transition to camp or that first break up (following that first “real” boyfriend or girlfriend). Camp time still feels like both forever and no time all at once. And at camp the real things do take time. Relationships – the lifelong ones we often talk about when reflecting on camp – take time to build. It is only after that summer at camp, and often over many summers, that we leave camp with the friends and mentors who become the hallmark of the reflections of generations of Blue Star campers and staff.
While camp really hasn’t changed, the pace of the world “beyond the red gate” has continued to accelerate. As I was putting my oldest son, Reid, to bed a few weeks ago and we were reading one of my old Where’s Waldo? books, an envelope from a camp friend, postmarked 22 AUG 1996, fell from Waldo’s pages. Unfortunately, the letter itself was gone, but the return address and postmark brought me right back to the weeks after my summer in Senior 1. Could our current campers imagine writing a letter to a friend, waiting for them to get it, and hoping they write back? Outside of camp the speed of that response has become almost instantaneous. Our campers (and us as parents too) have become accustomed to that instant feedback. Our children’s schools post photographs, send regular classroom updates, and put grades online immediately. We email teachers and expect a quick resolution. Our kids will never know the pains of having to make sure no one is on the phone and then the “musical” sounds as the dial up internet connects. Today, these delays and so many others are foreign to our lived experience.
As I reflect on what has changed about camp, it isn’t that camp has changed all that much (though the addition of the brand new equestrian barn, the new waterski cable park on the Old Lake, a new rock climbing tower, and all of the capital improvements over the past decade certainly stand out), it is that the pace of everything outside of camp has approached near instant gratification. And not just for our kids – for us as parents and professionals as well.
This summer, let’s lean into the magic of slow time. A camper feeling homesick in their transition needs time to adjust. A camper working through the age-old middle school challenges of shifting friend groups needs the time and space to work through those challenges. A friendship, formed out of common interest and shared experience, needs the space to be nurtured. We can’t slow down the pace of change and the immediacy of feedback in the real world, but for a few weeks this summer, we can let that Blue Star Magic slow things back down into real time.