From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.
During the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents sent me to a place called Camp Tall Trees.
Camp Tall Trees was a 7-day all-boys summer camp situated in rural Meade County, Kentucky, halfway between Louisville and the moon. In my parents’ minds, Camp Tall Trees was an ideal summertime haven – a place where I could spend one week living and learning in nature’s beautiful shade, as the name suggested.
In my suburban mind, it was a prepubescent gulag.
Ripped away from my Saturday morning ritual of Toaster Strudel and Hey Dude, I parachuted into a foreign land where Off Bug Spray was more valuable than oxygen. Every morning, I marched in invisible chains with my cabin mates to medieval outdoor activities, ranging from knot-making lessons to archery. Every night, I did what any proud third grader would do in a public setting – sat at the edge of my sleeping bag, crying.
But, mercifully, I was not alone.
At opposite corners of my sweltering wooden cabin were Mark, Michael, Justin, and Brandon – friends from my elementary school. United in our misery, we pooled our emotional and physical resources together Katniss-style and vowed to survive long enough to deliver a well-thought out speech to our parents when they arrived to pick us up on Saturday.
Day after day, night after night, we shared words of encouragement and Jolly Ranchers with each other anytime we sensed nausea or an on-coming nervous breakdown at the cabin. This strategy came into full force during the “highlight” of a week at Camp Tall Trees – a game called Commando Raid, in which all campers had to hide in the woods all night in camouflage clothes to avoid being captured by the camp counselors. After hiding for barely a few minutes, I wandered into the moonlight, feigned horror at being captured, and joined Mark and Co. in the canteen to sit out the evening with a round of well-earned Mr. Pibbs.
This summer, memories of Camp Tall Trees sailed back into my consciousness, for a rather metaphorical reason. Like most DC residents approaching 30, I am now at the stage of life where friends are beginning to leave the city for their next life chapter – be it grad school, a new job, or simply a change of scenery. It’s a bittersweet reality of transient DC life — but a worthwhile one. Because the memories we created as twentysomethings surviving life together in Washington, DC reaffirm a lesson I learned at camp 20 years ago: friendship is the backbone of perseverance.
Whether it’s in a rural camp setting during adolescence or in an urban jungle during your twenties, certain friends and friendships come into your life at precisely the moment when you need them. He/she may be the neighbor whose empathy helped you get through an emotional break up, or the coworker whose skill at the Xerox machine helped you get through a stressful day at the office. He/she could be the girl friend who set you up with a job interview, or the guy friend who set you up with your romantic partner. Most often, he/she is just the person who made you laugh.
It may be for a predestined celestial reason that they entered your life, or it may just be luck. Regardless of the where, when, or why, some friends were simply there – and thankfully so.