What is the real value of camp?

It may be the depth of relationships forged.

Camp relationships always seem to defy explanation. There is an intangible about relationships made at camp that seems to surpass those formed under ‘normal’ circumstances.

Through the years I have heard many say “looking back, my experience at camp shaped me and made me into the person I am today”; “my best friends are my friends from camp;” “I am a better person when I am at camp”; “I like myself at camp better than any other time”, and many more, but you get the idea.

At a funeral a year ago, I was surprised to see a former Stewart camper/counselor/director and asked “John, what are you doing here?”  “J.J. was one of my LTs, Kathy. I could not miss his funeral.”  As we stood there, he continued “You know, when I think about it, I might not drive across town to attend the funeral of someone I graduated from high school with but I will drive across the state for someone I went to camp with.”  And he had.

That was strong. His words resonated with me and stuck in my mind. I felt I had underestimated the tensile strength of camp relationships.

When I heard about Taylor’s unfathomable assassination in Israel, I reacted as a mother: denial, grief and overwhelming sadness. He was one of my little boys: it was heart-breaking and so senseless.

But it has been the heart-felt outpourings from men and boys whose lives had touched Taylor’s during his ten summers at Stewart that have made me reflect on just how deep and meaningful the overnight, long-term camp experience can be. Even the outpourings of sympathy from those who did not know him personally but yet shared the bond of Stewart brotherhood, whether as a camper, fellow chief or counselor have been touching. There was obviously a deep connection.

A real bond of brotherhood is so evident.

Stewart’s Facebook page and personal emails to one of us here at Stewart became the vehicle for many of Taylor’s former cabinmates and counselors to express their grief and sorrow. Amazingly, when I looked back at the boys in Taylor’s first cabin in 1994, I realized not only had he graduated from West Point, two others had graduated from Annapolis. One of their three counselors was a decorated Marine, and came from a family with a history of military service.  Impressive.

Through the years Si and I ascribed many tangible and intangible values to the camp experience – especially one of long tenure. Independence and/or self-reliance are often my first two; learning to set goals and systematically working towards them; learning better skills of communication; leadership; learning to live and work with others also often get quoted.

But right now I feel perhaps the personal relationships forged are the real lasting value of camp.

Leave it to Taylor Force, Chief #117, to teach me something fifty springs after arriving at Stewart.  The Taylor I remember is flashing his winsome crooked smile that even in death he taught me.

Taylor Force was a 28-year-old graduate student of Vanderbilt killed in a random terrorist attack March 8 in Jaffa, Israel, while on a university field trip. A graduate of West Point, he had served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a 10-term Stewart camper and Chief #117.


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