Setting the scene
I have written about the beguiling and awesome nature of camp friendship before- how somehow in the middle of perfecting your backstroke and making sure that you know all the words to “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, you have developed these lifelong friendships without really even noticing how it happened. A student of this phenomenon for over 18 years, I am still not sure exactly how they come to be; I know that it is some combination of the people, the activities that fill the day and, of course, the setting. Lately, though, I’ve been considering the possibility that we do not give the setting enough credit.
When you tell someone that you found your closest friends in college or high school, it’s completely expected. Both are formative times in your life, times where you might take risks or try new things, times where it’s expected to bond over firsts, failures and successes. But tell them that you are still incredibly close to someone who you went to summer camp with for a few years back when you were an adolescent or someone who you worked with for eight or nine weeks when you were 19 or 20 and you might get a look bordering somewhere between confusion and disbelief.
I think that this benign public scrutiny, most often born of not going to camp, makes us feel like we have to explain our relationships beyond the wonderful, inexplicable miracle that they are. In all the searching for why it is that we feel so close to these people that we only spend a few weeks with, a simple truth can get lost- we feel so close because we met at a place that allows us to be ourselves and change what it is that means. You can develop friends that you feel see you more clearly than anyone else because you allow her to see the parts that you are sure of and what you are still figuring out. There are no secrets in tent living and there is no judgment in camp friendships.
Combine these truths along with the people, the way we spend our days, and the knowledge that we only have this true privilege for a short time each year, and you have all the ingredients that go into this thing that I love and still cannot explain- camp friendships. I just think it’s important that we remember the “where” as much as the “what” when reflecting up these mysterious and wonderful things.