By GUCI alumna Laura Brenner
Camp was canceled.
I never thought I’d hear those three words used together. None of us ever expected we’d experience this in our lifetime. The news has left the community heartbroken, and understandably so. It’s one thing to have to cancel a trip, but a summer at camp is a moment in time that can never be replaced.
I know this all too well. I am one of a small group of people who have actually experienced this before. I like to call us the Avodah Rejects. Just so you know, I say it jokingly with a tone of playfulness. It’s the way I’ve coped all these years for being told camp was canceled for me back in 1990. My fellow Avodah Rejects know exactly what I’m talking about. At the end of April, every other Avodahnik (insert year here) in the GUCI family is getting a tiny glimpse of how we felt.
As I hear the news of a summer that will be lost, I’m quite surprised at the old grief that has risen to the surface. I had moved on from missing that important summer at camp. It was 30 years ago, and I no longer cry about it, resent it, or hold grudges about it.
However, it clearly still lives on in my heart.
I had spent my whole life growing up at camp. It was my family. Like most everyone else, I spent every day of the year yearning to be at camp. No other life experience I’ve ever had in my life compares to it. Even today, I still wish I could go back.
When the letter came in the mail 30 years ago, it was really the first heartbreak I’d ever faced in my life. It was tougher than my parents’ divorce that same winter. My worst fears came to fruition as camp went on without me. There simply weren’t enough beds, and as my best friends were creating another summer of memories, I was forgotten.
Camp simply went on without me.
For a long time I was angry. I couldn’t get over what was robbed of me. I swore I’d never set foot on camp again. With an “I’ll show you” attitude, I refused to return for my Machon year. However, I did fly out to Indiana to visit my best friend that summer, and we visited camp for a Shabbat. The minute I set foot on camp, I couldn’t do anything but cry. Returning to camp opened up a feeling I couldn’t describe. I was home. It was as if no time had passed. The love and acceptance I felt from my GUCI family wrapped me up like a giant hug.
In that moment, I knew nothing would stop me from going back the next summer.
And that’s exactly what I did. I returned to GUCI as a counselor in 1992 and probably stayed past my prime until 1994. I set aside my pride. I forgave the many people I blamed for “abandoning” me or for getting in the way of my acceptance into Avodah. I let it go because I knew that it was more important to be in the community that I loved than to punish myself with some false sense of pride.
That’s what we do when it comes to family.
Families are just that because it’s not only about the good times. It’s not a fair-weather friendship. We endure challenges and problems and arguments and tough times together. What makes us family is that we choose to move forward without letting our challenges tear our unit apart forever. We learn important qualities like forgiveness, acceptance, and love.
While we are in the process of enduring loss, frankly, it sucks. We often don’t want to hear how much better it will make us, how it was meant to be, or how everything happens for a reason. Even if we don’t want to wallow in our sadness, sometimes we need to do just that. It’s good for us. When we are ready to move through our grief, then we can choose how we want to grow from our experience.
When we choose to grow from adversity, we build our resilience.
That resilience gets us through the many ups and downs we will experience in our lives.
Missing out on my Avodah summer created a ton of grief. Eventually, when I realized that my sadness and anger were only punishing me, I knew I had to let it go. And something really beautiful came out of it.
I felt more gratitude for GUCI than I ever had before. I’d bet that most of my Avodah Reject Friends also came out of their loss with a greater appreciation for GUCI.
When something you deeply love is taken from you, it shows you how much it really means to you.
To anyone losing this summer… whether you’re a camper, a counselor, an Avodahnik, a parent watching your children grieve, or even an alum reminiscing about the GUCI magic every summer from a distance…
I see you.
Everyone who has ever had camp canceled for them sees you. We see the tragic loss that this creates for you. And I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic. It is a tragic loss that deserves to be grieved.
Nothing I can say can make you skip feeling the loss you’ll feel this summer.
I wish it could. But I do know that we will get through this. Our camp leaders are doing an amazing job to keep everyone connected. For some of us, virtually revisiting Shabbat Walks, Havdalah Services, and song sessions has been a special GUCI treat that we otherwise would have never been able to experience. Some of us are closer than ever.
Not only will we get through this, but it will make us stronger individually and as a community.
We will all appreciate GUCI a little bit (or a lot) more. We will all know how important having community is to our well-being. Hopefully, we will continue to nurture these relationships that are some of the most important to us in our lives.
That’s a beautiful thing.
Two years ago I came back to camp for the 60th reunion. It was the most special and fun time I have shared with old friends… possibly ever. I left that weekend with my bucket more filled than I had felt in a long time.
The very next day I found out I had Stage 3 breast cancer. As my world crashed around me, my GUCI family rallied around me. Whether it was hours-long phone conversations with my other GUCI warrior sisters who had been there before, my local GUCI friends dropping everything to support me, or even a simple Facebook message checking in on me and sending me love; this is GUCI. (Is that like This Is Us? I’ve never watched the show, but that sounds about right!)
At a time when I could barely get myself through the day, my GUCI family was there lifting me up.
When I finished all of my treatments and really felt I could celebrate, it was my GUCI besties who dropped everything at home to celebrate with me on the beach in Mexico. My oldest and closest friends in the world are my camp friends. And to think… I could have stayed bitter and let it all slip away 30 years ago. Where would I be now without all of you?
Right now some of us are experiencing our own challenges or tragedies, and the cancellation of camp is only a reminder. It is a reminder to make the effort, a reminder to maintain meaningful connections. Check in on a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages. Forgive someone you believe has wronged you. Forgive yourself for something you’ve done. Know that every moment is temporary, and bad times will change. Without each other, none of it really matters.
There’s nothing better than the family we choose, and this will make our family stronger.