I grew up in that inbetween era. Somewhere between that age when it was both common and expected that high schoolers and college students would find some brutish job to make their way through their summers (and sometimes year round) and the era that followed it where it is now considered a faux pas to work before the age of 30. My parents were often caught in the disagreement between “he shouldn’t have to work as hard as I did” and “it’ll be good for him to get a job.” And somewhere in this inbetween, I did the unthinkable, I wanted to get a job.
Someone from my church was working in the camp kitchen of the local summer camp just five miles down the road from my house. I was just shy of 16 and I felt that my time had come. So, with my parents permission, I nervously submitted an application for a job that I really really really wanted: dishwasher. Thankfully, against a field of substantially more qualified candidates (in that they could drive there) I got the job. For the first several weeks, until my 16th birthday, I rode my scooter the five miles down to camp each day I had to work. Somedays as early as 4:30 in the morning.
When it is hot outside, as it is right now, I can’t help but think of that camp. There were only two buildings on the whole property that were air-conditioned, and the kitchen was known to get well into the 110s in the heat and humidity of August. When I was doing dishes in that late summer sauna, I was often instructed not to go out into the dining hall because I was so covered in sweat that it would turn the stomachs of the campers. Summer campers are–after all–very particular eaters.
I spent two years in that kitchen, working throughout the summers and then working the retreat season through the winter and fall. I loved going to camp. I loved it so much that after those first two years into it, I took the plunge and joined the full-time counseling staff for the three summers that followed. We did the math one time and calculated that we were paid about 75 cents an hour plus room and board. And it was the greatest job I ever loved.
There isn’t a summer goes by that I don’t think about Pine Lake. Every time the heat pushed through the stratosphere I think about sweating myself to sleep on the cabin floor because every bunk was taken by campers. Every time I see my kids jump in the pool, I think about the endless hours we spent dunking kids against the rules, challenging our friends, the lifeguards, to kick us out and causing any manner of raucous. Every time I wake up before the sun, I think about crawling out of bed before the dawn and walking down the dew-soaked lawn to pre-breakfast staff meetings. The only time we could meet when the campers could be left to their own devices.
I remember the smell (often bad), the taste (often reheated), the laughter (often). We cried alot. We had drama, romance, disaster and stress. We lived three lifetimes in three summers and for those months under the sun we were convinced that what we were doing was the most important thing on earth.
These summers I avoid the heat through the perfect transition from my air-conditioned house to my air-conditioned car to my air-conditioned corner office. I probably make more in a month today than I did the entire time I worked at Pine Lake. And yet, there was a greatness about that work. The sweaty, grimy, giggly, foolish wonderment of giving kids of every age a solace from the storm for a few short days before thrusting them back into the crazy of their world. And no kids got a better solace from reality than us: the kids working there every day.
I had campers who thought someone was trying to kill them, campers who were afraid to go to school, campers who felt that Pine Lake was more like home than anywhere they had ever been. And I loved them because too many times I knew I had felt the same.
There are the jobs you do and the jobs you love. I have done many jobs since Pine Lake. Each good in its own way. But there was only one truly great job that I ever loved.
I’m eternally grateful to the kings and queens who ruled over that age with me, our lives are forever intertwined. There are too many to name, but you know who you are. I pray that God makes each of us better and better iterations of the people we were at Pine Lake. The hope, tragedy and silliness and wonderment that characterized those days ought to–with ever-increasing wisdom–characterize 10,000 more.