Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Happiest Moment of My Life

What was the happiest moment of your life? Think about that question and try to think of the answer. We aren't often posed with such a large question. But for me it's amazing to know exactly what that moment was for me.

Almost six years ago I worked as a counselor at a summer camp. The summer was broken into four-2 week sessions. The very first session was two weeks of connection and magic. There were five of us staff in the teen camp and only a mere eight campers attended session one. That meant that the 13 of us were as close as family and spent all our time together. One camper in particular, a 14-year-old named Deontae, didn't seem to happy to be singing cheesy camp songs around the opening camp fire. We tried our hardest to get him to have fun, but it was going to take him a bit to get over how "uncool" he felt. 

As time went on Deontae connected with the staff and the other campers easily and genuinely. The boys became his brothers and the girls, his sisters. It was easy to see, through his actions, how much he cared for all of them. 

Fast forward to the end of the two weeks. We had to say goodbye to the three girls and five boys that we had grown so attached to over our time together. Deontae's spirit at the closing campfire couldn't have been happier or more peaceful. This showed exactly how far he'd come in just two weeks. It was easy to see he really connected with the other campers he had lived with and learned so much about himself. 

We staff were sad to be saying goodbye to the close knit family we had just formed, but we knew we had to prepare for a new session of campers who would soon be arriving. It wasn't easy for us to move on and create quick bonds with new kids as we were doing nothing but remembering how much we enjoyed our time with the old ones. 

As my co-worker Maggie and I were sitting at the fire circle chatting up the new campers, I saw who I thought was Deontae - off in the distance. I said aloud with a skeptical tone "that looks like Deontae."

As the figure came closer (he was trying to sneak up on us) I yelled confidently "that is Deontae!" 

When Maggie and I realized what was happening we screamed at the top of our lungs and sprang up from the log we were sitting on, running to him at Olympic speed. Maggie literally jumped into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist. Coming off of only being able to give "side hugs" to campers, in this moment formality didn't matter.  

In this moment many things were happening emotionally. Surprise, shock, disbelief, relief, and most of all pure and genuine joy. It had only been just over a day since we had seen Deontae last, but to see familar face, one we loved so much made these feelings possible. I don't honestly remember a stronger rush of adrenaline and release of endorphins to my brain. Nothing else has been quite so memorable, as moments go, yet. I'm happy that my happiest moment happened with a boy that I had only known two weeks. It shows me just how much human beings can connect under all the right circumstances. To know that he affected me so much to have me remember this feeling.

To end the story, as it turned out, Deontae was only returning to camp to drop of a friend of his, who was camping in the following session. We hoped he was going to be able to stay for another two weeks, but he couldn't. The short, surprise visit from Deontae left us refreshed and high from the rush of emotions. 

Deonate was a very special kid to me. He was from Ypsilanti, MI and had led a bit of a rough life. His time at camp gave him the ability to connect with people different from him and it let him try new things that gave hopefully gave him confidence to do the right thing.  It's kids like him and moments like these that give me a passion for working with youth. To have an affect on a life such as his, and to have my life affected at the same time.