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Lessons on Friendship from Camp

September 15, 2010

Source: sausyn on Flickr

We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names, but they all have to share the same box –Anon

I spent a great deal of my childhood at a wonderful summer camp in Northern Minnesota, where it seemed like everyone was a potential friend and all the friends you made were true friends. How great would that be in real life? So often the friends we make have agendas, or only hang around us at certain times and with certain people. There is often a sense of insincerity, or somewhat impure friendship. But at Summer Camp, the friends you made at horseback riding were just as good for sailing (assuming they could sail), and you could eat with them, camp with them, play games with them, or just sit and watch the lake together. There is a strange and wondrous ease about camp friends that is so rare and hard to find elsewhere.

I wonder why this is? I am in touch with precious few of my college friends, and don’t keep up with many high school friends either. Considering I spent three quarters of the year in those places, but only one quarter at camp, the proportion of friends made is extremely unbalanced in favor of camp.

I think the environment of camp has a lot to do with this. But it isn’t the easy, relaxed times and places that contribute to this strong bond. Instead, it is the tense, potentially stressful times. At camp, you are assigned to live with ten other boys of approximately the same age. You spend many hours confined to a cabin with these boys, who form groups, play games, jockey for social position, and attempt to assert themselves or just be left alone. Everyone is different, comes from different homes, has a different way of looking at the world, and has a totally different expectation for the summer. Some of them know they will have the time of their lives and will leave grudgingly. Some of them know they will get terribly homesick, and will probably get made fun of for it. Some of them want to ride horses, or paint, or camp. Some of them just want to be away from their families. But they all have to live together.

My point is, you don’t get to pick who you live with. And neither does that guy who apparently hates you. Just as you have to learn to live with him, he has to learn to live with you. And what’s the best way to live with someone? To become their friend.

Unlikely Hiking Partners

One of my best friends at camp was the guy in my cabin who scared me the most. We’ll call him A. He was huge. Besides being overweight, he was also taller than me. He had a short, spiky haircut, tips dyed blond, and wore a torn denim vest everywhere. As an underweight, scrawny momma’s boy, I immediately assumed I’d be the butt of a lot of torment from this guy.

Part of that summer involved a short backpacking trip, which was something I knew I was good at. I hoped to just do the walking and mind my own business. I was good friends with the counselors, so I figured I could just hang out with them a lot. When we got on trail, my potential tormentor revealed himself to be a somewhat inept camper, though. He hadn’t brought rain gear, and being overweight he had huge trouble with the pack. At first, I was relieved, because this meant he would be too busy huffing and puffing to bother me (or would be so angry he’d be even more likely to pick on me, needing an outlet for his anger).

At one point after a break, I was late packing up and ended up in the back of the group. On a single-track trail, this meant hiking single file behind A, who usually took up the rear. At first, I didn’t mind, since we were moving at the same pace as the rest of the group, but A began to slow down and soon it was just me and him, moving very, very slowly, which frustrated me to no end. Still, I felt bad just passing him and leaving him behind, since doing so would require literally pushing past him on the narrow trail. So we walked, miles behind the rest of the group, slowly picking our way up hills I could have jogged, tentatively working our way down gently declines. There was nothing to do but make the best of things, so I decided to settle with being patient and started a conversation.

To my surprise, we had a lot in common. He loved science fiction, and was trying to write a novel-length story, just like me. We discovered we were both huge fans of the Magic: The Gathering card game. As the afternoon wore on, our conversation died and we simply trudged on together, comfortable in the knowledge that all there was to do was walk in pace. Soon the sun began to set and we worried we’d missed the campsite. Eventually, we came upon the rest of our group, already set up and cooking dinner. A went off to unpack, and I helped with the campsite.

When we got back to camp, A took me aside and thanked me for walking with him. He thought that I was doing it out of kindness to him, when in fact it had been an accident. I didn’t know this, but my patience in walking with him was the only thing that had gotten him through that day. Knowing that someone else was suffering with him made it bearable.

He has since repaid the favor a thousand times, teaching me how to stand up for myself in countless situations. A, who originally was the most unlikely of friends, and one I would never have approached in a thousand years, has become one of my best and closest friends. All thanks to an accident of proximity and being forced to walk together.

How did you meet your best friends?

– (**

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jorge Peralta permalink
    September 15, 2010 6:56 pm

    Khaled, you write so well and honestly I wish I would have read your articles back when we lived together. You really pull me into every article as soon as I start reading.

    In studying child psychology one of the first things you learn is that friendship is largely determined by location. The proximity between a child and his/her friend directly relates to the quality of the friendship. Perhaps a thought should be given to the relative locations of the people we meet in life. Working in stroke rehab for the last year has granted me a lot of insight into the social lives of older populations. I’ve noticed that a lot of people move back to the areas in which they were raised, making it a lot easier to keep in touch with childhood friends throughout life despite the 4-8 years we take to get away, study, and find ourselves.

    • September 16, 2010 9:05 pm

      Khaled Allen Thanks Jorge and amanda for the comment. The difference between the social lives of various age groups has always been an iterating topic to me. I always worry about getting older and not meeting new people but I guess if you put yourself where there are people with similar interests, you’ll continue to make friends. I think it could get easier or harder as you age; you drop pretenses but you can also become more close minded about getting to know people different than you.

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