Archives for March 2003

To Bond, Or Not To Bond…

Half way through college in Boston, I took a semester off to teach environmental education to 4th through 6th graders at Seargant Camp.  The program provided room and board in a huge farm house for about 12 staff who had all come together with diverse backgrounds, experience, ages, and expectations.  For 3 months, we lived, worked, ate, and played together in various capacities.  There were problems and flare-ups of personality, but for the most part things really were addressed either individually, or as a group where all would come together.

For me, it was the first time that I became part of a larger community than my nuclear family of 4.  For recreation during the weekends, groups of us would go canoeing, rock climbing, or hiking together.  Technically, it was a “job”, but practically, it was a way of life and of being.  It was very new, fascinating, intriguing, intense, and enjoyable for me.  Over time, these people I worked with became very dear friends.  From each and every one of them, I learned a great deal.  It was therefore with some sadness that I knew the end of the program would see us all going our separate ways.

Eventually, the end did come, and of course we all scattered to the wind.  We exchanged names and addresses, of course, but with few exceptions, ties were broken, and the sense of loss that I felt was far and away more deep, profound, and painful than I could have ever imagined.  In essence, I had learned to come alive in that environment, and now my world as I had come to know it was disbanding — both literally, and figuratively.

Sargent Camp had ended on a Friday, and I had the good fortune of being expected for work at Camp Merrowvista, with the American Youth Foundation (AYF) the following Monday.  It was a mournful weekend for me as I traveled further North, living out of the back of my Toyota 4-Runner, which then held the sum total of my worldly possessions.  Merrowvista was to be another 3-month program, this time a summer adventure camp.

At the AYF, the “community” was much larger (75 people), and not as intimate as Sargent Camp’s 12.  I did grow close to a smaller set of individuals with whom I worked more directly, but for the most part I was on my own in this program.  It was stressful in that “my kids” consisted of a pyromaniac, a cleptopath, a sociopath, and about 10 other “normal” kids who were full of adolescent angst and rage, and generally less than happy to be there.  Under such circumstances, I bonded with my co-workers more out of a sense of necessity for my own survival than out of choice or joy.

Nonetheless, by the end of the summer, there were about 5 people that I had bonded with, and whom I knew full well I would miss terribly when the program came to an end.  I had never really taken the time to fully process the loss of my first outdoor community, so the loss of the second one hit me all the harder.  We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, of course, but just like before, we ultimately scattered to the wind like the coming leaves of Fall.

I had a few weeks before college started up again, having transferred to UVa in the interim.  I had another 5 semesters to go before graduation, and I knew with certainty that what I most wanted to do was return to the outdoor field to teach, since that is where my heart was, and where I had experienced the most learning and growth.  College was just something academic to get out of the way before returning to my love of the outdoors.

After College, having majored in psychology, I found a job working for Inner Quest as an intern in their 3 month program.  Again, this was a smaller, tighter community of about 12 people who would live, work, learn, and play together while working with groups of kids for periods of a single day, through a week or more.  Knowing full well that this was another short-term program, I had to give some pause before choosing to let any of these people close to my heart.  Invariably, this group too would come to an end, and we would most likely suffer the same fate as those I had experienced before.  Part of the difference here, however, was that the activities we did were more dangerous, and on many occasions we were all physically responsible for the well being of each other’s life on the end of a rope on a cliff, or deep in a cave under ground.  So any reservations I had about bonding with these people quickly evaporated, and we became closer than I had imagined.

When at last the program did come to an end, the blow was thus all the more devastating, despite having seen it coming from the very onset.  I had a choice of whether to let these people close to me or not, knowing full well that they would leave.  It was not a matter of risk, it was a matter of certainty.  At the end of the program, most every one of the people I was sharing my life with would scatter to the wind, just as they had in the past.  Yet I chose to let them in.  I chose to remain open, to allow them close to my heart, to share my life with them, and  experience the joys and tribulations of their lives as well.

So when that day finally arrived, I felt much pain in my heart.  I also felt a twinge of anger for having allowed myself to form  such bonds of love and closeness with people I knew would leave.  There was loss, sadness, pain and emotional suffering all at once.  But there was also love and joy.  I did not resent any of them for leaving, for I too would be heading down my own path. The love came from the experiences we had shared, and the joy from knowing that as we all went our separate ways, we would each continue to live, learn, and grow in whatever ways that life would bring our way.

Over the years that followed, over and over again I chose to be open with each of the groups that I was fortunate enough to join.  I chose to share, and to love.  In the end, parting from groups has always hurt like hell, but these same groups have also been the largest source of joy and growth I have known.  With each and every new group, there has been that precipice at the beginning when I have had to chose how open to be, how much to reveal, and how close I wanted to allow others to my heart.  Each time, I have consistently made the choice to be open despite what pain might lie ahead because in being open and in accepting  the pain that will follow, I am choosing life — in all its splendor, diversity, and glory.

Let the good times roll.