On one of the last nights of camp every summer, we have a campfire in the woods. We sit as a community and enjoy the fire, the natural world around us, each other’s company for a little while, and then each CIT (our oldest campers) speaks for a few minutes about whatever they’d like. This sometimes takes the form of advice, or a memory, but most often it’s a thank-you to camp. My second year as a camper, a CIT spoke about how at camp, we can feel like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Kansas suddenly becomes Oz, the sepia-toned “real world” becoming a Technicolor fantasy. She shared her fear of going back to New Jersey after camp, having to retrace Dorothy’s journey back to black and white. But, she said, it is our responsibility to carry that rainbow way of seeing things back home with us: it’s no good having an Oz if it’s only in the summers, only for some of us.
I think everyone who comes to camp must have some version of that feeling: the arrival, the theater games on the lawn, the way we’re all encouraged to be our truest, most authentic selves — not just the selves we might default to, but the heightened, imagined, aspirational, mutable versions of ourselves that fill our dream worlds. At camp we get to be rock stars, heroes, champions, celebrated for being exactly who we are — and that’s before we even consider the shows, where we might be villains, pirates, queens, gods, witches, or (most frightening of all) teenagers exactly like us. Full Technicolor, shocking every time the door of that house opens and we walk with Toto into a field of wildflowers.
But as that CIT reminded me at the campfire, we don’t have to leave that way of seeing the world behind when we leave camp in July or August. Camp isn’t a location, a collection of buildings — and it isn’t really even a group of people, since we all grow up and eventually stop coming back to camp. I think it’s a way of seeing the world, a certain tilt of the head when looking at things. A willingness to accept everyone for who they are; leading with curiosity, not prescriptiveness; a love of theater and the power it has to activate the best in all of us. These are things we learn at camp, and return to camp to keep honing. But that way of seeing the world — in the full color it is, not the sepia it sometimes appears to be — can come home with us too, and after a summer at camp, you can see all year long in vibrant color.