Flickering firelight illuminated the faces of my fellow campers as my bunk mates recounted the experiences of the trip we had just returned from. Kiri, a slight freckled girl with the personality of a giant, inspired shrieks of laughter with her playful anecdote. Next to go was Louie, who wore his flat brimmed baseball cap pulled so tightly down over his eyebrows that practically all you could see of his face were his gleaming rabbit-like front teeth. He delivered an account, while maintaining his sheepish smile, of deftly stringing up a tarp for shelter from the rain. When my turn came I was eager to share a story that would elicit laughs from my friends.
Instead of choosing one of the many heartwarming accounts of conversations I’d shared hiking along the trail with my peers or the fun I’d had playing games despite being hungry, dirty, and tired, I opted to make up a tale so unexpected and over the top that people would surely laugh. I shocked my fellow campers into a few chuckles with fictitious characters and blatantly impossible scenarios, but after the fire had burned down and we headed back to our cabins the camp director pulled me aside for a talk.
At first I thought she was merely annoyed that I had flaunted the rules, but her intonation communicated otherwise. The deliberate precision with which she chose her words and hushed tone of delivery indicated that she was not just disappointing with me for missing the opportunity to reflect on some of the best ten days of my life, but also how sad she was for my fellow campers. Instead of forging a connection by sharing my experience and lighting the way for younger campers I chose to steal a few cheap laughs. Sometimes I look back and imagine myself now, sitting on that rough split log bench in front of the bonfire, sharing the stories that have taken place since then. In my mind’s eye I am offering the authenticity and vulnerability that I failed to share many years ago.