Greetings from the Ridge.
It’s easy to become discouraged. Listening to the nightly news before bedtime is enough to disturb anyone’s sleep as the state of the nation and the world seems to be spiraling into one abyss after another. I can remember Henry Kissinger once saying that, “You can’t really achieve total world peace. You can only run around the world trying to keep all the balls in the air.” Dr. Kissinger could never win a happy face contest, but there’s some wisdom in his departing words as Secretary of State.
One of the troubles of growing old is that you tend to spend more time with old people, and elders are not the most optimistic bipeds on the planet. Our minds have managed to paint an idyllic picture of how things used to be whether they were actually that good or not. Combine this skewed perspective with the fact that the media tends to stereotype all youth as smart-mouthed hooligans and you often find yourself lacking a good reason to get up in the morning.
However, for some reason I’ve been blessed to spend a great deal of time with people decades younger than my creaking bones and I’m here to tell you there’s cause for not only hope but outright joy. I’ll admit that the kids I know may not be typical of the entire planet, but I’ll tell you that great kids do exist and there are a heck of a lot of them.
Summer camp should be the bailiwick of adolescents in tank tops and not limpers in support hose, but I’ve been lucky enough to supervise a few of these sun-filled weeks of fishing holes, campfires and everything conceivable that can be dumped onto a hotdog. So here’s the report from the far side of fifty on what’s happening in teen land….knee sox as viewed from the land of Botox. . .
Every camper knows that for at least one meal he’ll be chosen to help clean up the cafeteria. His friends are out catching bass and playing basketball when the camp director slaps a broom in his hands and introduces him to a floor littered with French fries and blobs of Ranch dressing. This summer I saw this happen day after day: the little team of table scrubbers would line up to go to work and suddenly another group of campers would appear, gently lifting the washrags from their hands and saying, “I’ll do that. You go out and play.” Ever see that at an AARP meeting?
The little girl had disabilities that made it impossible for her to attend many summer camps, but at this one she stood in front of a crowd of antsy adolescents and said she wanted to sing a song. And sing she did. Few could understand the words, but when she finished 100 kids rose to their feet and applauded. They shouted. They cheered. They put a smile on the girl’s face that stayed in place until the camp was done.
The little boy sat in the back row with his arms crossed. For two days he’d watched his friends perform onstage, at the fishing hole, and under the basketball hoop. But on this night he’d convinced himself that he had no talent and was wishing he’d stayed home in the solitude of his computer games. That’s when they attacked…a dozen or so kids who were intent on putting him in their performing group. They pestered him, they nagged, they physically pulled him up out of his chair and practically carried him onto the stage to take part in their skit. His frown morphed into a red-faced grin then an all-out smile. The little boy had trouble sleeping that night. All he could think about were his newly found friends.
Darren was autistic and he’d accompanied his big brother to camp. The boy’s older sibling was nervous and more than a little protective of his little brother and at times the older son missed some of the joy of summer camp as he worried. Then, out of nowhere, the little rascal asked to get up and do a song for the camp. His older brother was taken by surprise and jumped to his feet to watch. The little rascal sang his song to the accompanying cheers of his peers and when he finished his big brother began to make his way through the crowd to congratulate his buddy. The older boy didn’t make it. He was cut off by a wave of little campers hugging his brother.
I don’t know anything about these kids’ tests scores or whether they could beat South Korean school children in math, but I saw kindness. I saw compassion. I saw the very thing that just might make the nightly news more tolerable. I saw something that would not show up on any test scores but might truly be the hope for the world.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.