Julia Jones, Special Love counselor and former camper (Wilm’s tumor) …
For one week every summer, I get to go to camp. Camp is my happy place. This camp is called Camp Fantastic…. In 1998, I was a camper at Camp Fantastic, and Special Love has been a part of my life ever since. For the past six years, I’ve been a counselor at camp.
I wish I could tell you the story of every child I met at camp. I wish I could share all of the ways they impacted me and touched my heart. Every year when I go to camp, my heart is changed and I return to everyday life without adequate words to express my experience. I grow frustrated trying to explain to people how a weeklong summer camp can have such spiritual significance and that the only way you could begin to understand is if you put your ear to my ribcage and listened to the music in my heart.
Many people live their lives seeing darkness everywhere they go even though they live in the light. But I have met children who had darkness pushed upon them and from that place stubbornly insist on seeing the light.
In the end, I describe camp as transcendent and bittersweet. It’s a week of the most fun you can have: riding horses, canoeing, playing dress up, building a spaceship, visiting a farm, riding a motorcycle, winning more prizes and stuffed animals than you can ever fit into a suitcase, sitting around a campfire, witnessing more complete and utter silliness than one person can handle, and making the kind of friends you will never forget. Camp is full of the kind of people who will do whatever it takes to make a camper smile….
At the beginning of the week, before the campers arrived, Tom Baker, Special Love’s founder, gave us some advice: Fall in love with a camper. It’s not hard to love these kids. They climb right into your heart and stay there. The hard part is saying goodbye to 99 children at the end of the week, knowing some of them you may never see again.
Saying goodbye was particularly hard this year. One of the reasons was a camper I’ll call T. If I could share with you one person from my week, it would be her. T is a sixteen-year-old in the middle of her cancer journey. She’s lost all her hair, uses a wheelchair, and has a tube that goes up her nose and into her stomach. I can’t think of how to describe her other than beautiful. Her spirit and everything about her is just beautiful. I liked her immediately.
Every day we would sit and do her make-up, sing Sara Bareilles, and talk. She made us all laugh. That last Saturday morning, as I’m hugging people, I see T and know I have to say goodbye. I start to cry. As I walk over, she sees me and says, “Get over here, girl!” I hug her tight. She looks up at me and asks, “Can I give you a blessing?” I nod. She reaches up to hold my face in her hands and looks me in the eyes as she speaks a blessing over me.
I don’t have words for that moment. Her gesture touched a part of me where words don’t go….
So how can spending a week at summer camp mean so much to me? How can I find space in my heart for 99 children from all over D.C., Maryland, and Virginia? Well, it’s easy. I love them all, and I can’t wait to see them again next year.