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Good News MAG
I liked the sunsets. It's corny to say that, but I did. There's something about sunsets that makes them fascinating, pulling; they change constantly, depending on the weather, where you are, and how you happen to be feeling at the time. At camp, the sunsets were always serene and peaceful. And quiet. I remember sitting on the chapel benches, knees drawn up to my chest, looking out in awe at what a lake can do to a sunset. It was as if my longing for home were heard by the skies, and in response they opened up to me in a dazzle of purples and oranges. They were taking me home – not to New York, but to my own center of being, a state where I felt completely at peace, oblivious to whatever had happened.
I was eight years old when I first attended Camp Good News. I thought the name of the place was funny, but it sounded nice in the description my mother and I read online. Sleep-away camp was something new to me, and the idea was thrilling. My mother was nervous about letting me go somewhere on my own; it would be the longest I had been away from her. When I arrived, I was carrying a tiny, surprisingly heavy suitcase under one arm, and a gigantic sleeping bag under the other. The cabin they brought me to was very small and had no bathroom or electricity, but it was a lakeside cabin, and outside, everything was stunning. After working laboriously to set up my sleeping area, I was told there had been a mistake; I was supposed to be in a hilltop cabin. So I gathered all my things and trudged up the longest set of stairs I had ever encountered to an identical cabin – located quite inconveniently at the very top of the highest hill. It was quite the journey. I couldn't see the lake from there; it was obscured by trees.
Good News was a Christian camp, which meant we sang church songs every day and prayed before every meal. They made us go to church on Sunday mornings and attend a camp-wide meeting at the outdoor chapel, overlooking the lake, in the evening. I suppose it's not hard to see why I fell in love with the sunsets there. Joan, the camp's guitarist, would play, and as everyone sang, I watched how the light hit the flowers' petals, and how appealing and different – surreal, even – it made everything look. The light was really the only reason I liked chapel, but I never told that to anyone.
One night in the cabin after chapel, the campers and counselor were sharing stories from the day. We were all in our pajamas, some sitting on the floor and others in their bunks. The air was heavy with summer smells: grass and sunscreen and bug spray. When it was my turn to contribute, I told them I'd enjoyed my swimming lesson. I was really coming along – I could float now.
The counselor told us that she loved that evening's chapel. She said that it made her feel as if she had found God all over again. “Didn't you all feel that way, too?” she asked. “I just felt so close to him, right? Yeah?” Everyone nodded, including me. That was the first time I lied at camp.
Six years later, I was back at Camp Good News, sitting on a chapel bench waiting for the sunset. I was thinking about my summers there, and how many times I had sat in that very spot, watching the most beautiful part of nature. The sun hadn't set yet, and it was breezy, the wind blowing the ends of my hair into my face.
I recalled that long-ago night; it was a memory I thought of often. It seems so insignificant – even I can see that. But I like to think of it as a turning point.
As a small child, I had always accepted my religion as a normal part of my life, not questioning it because there never seemed to be anything to question. I viewed it the way other children viewed brushing their teeth, or zipping their coats before running outside to play in the snow. That night, however, took me onto a different train of thought, one that I would ride all through my early life. That one little lie, the twinge of doubt that I felt at age eight, revealed that to the people at my camp, belief in God was much more significant than brushing your teeth in the morning. It was something they embraced wholeheartedly. It was a belief, I realized, that I did not seem to share.
And so, I told many lies at camp. I lied whenever we sang, whenever Joan played guitar, because I was standing among these people knowing in my mind that I did not believe in God. It took much of my strength not to cry as we sang, thinking about my feeling of displacement. We all shared a love for swimming and sailing and those rare treats, blueberry scones, but we couldn't connect on something so important. It was frustrating.
More and more, I sought the solace of my evenings alone with the skies when they opened and engulfed me in their beauty. It was a relief, being sure that these majestic purples and oranges and reds, splashed like paint upon the shimmering water of the lake, were real. The sunsets were true and the sunsets brought me home.
I remember one evening during my last summer there. As I pulled my sweater around my shoulders, I watched the sun fall until it dipped into the water. I was awed, once again, by what a lake can do to a sunset. I watched and I thought to myself, camp gave me this. Camp gave me these splendid moments, and these moments taught me to believe in what I feel is true. Different, but true.
I smiled to myself, realizing that while I did not belong among singers in the chapel, I did belong here at Camp Good News. I boarded a new train of thought that night, one where I made myself at home. I lay back on the bench, basking in the welcoming light, feeling more at home than I had anywhere else. My own good news, I thought, laughing at the pun. And it really was; it was very good news.