What it’s like when people are kind and thoughtful and filled with joy
What a perfect time of year to be writing about this day of S.T.A.N.D.. Although it happened many months ago on a sufferably hot August day, much of what occurred is happening all around me right now.
I wanted to get the campers and staff into the mindset of what it’s like when people are kind and thoughtful and filled with joy. I could have used any number of celebrations but, as Cairn is a Christian camp, I chose to celebrate Christmas with them. I wanted them to think about family and dear friends gathered today, wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen, decorations sparkling on the tree, familiar and favourite music all around them, and the feeling of joy and peace they have for all humankind at Christmas.
When I drove to the camp the Friday before, I shared my air-conditioned car with many of my own Christmas decorations for the long 3 ½ hour ride to Muskoka. As the campers gathered outside the lodge for our morning session, already sweating in the morning sun of that humid August day, they had no idea that the dining hall would look like a winter wonderland. We had decorated with ornaments, bells, Santa’s, snowmen, garlands, and a nativity scene. We even had a tree with a golden star and it’s very own tree skirt. The kitchen staff had prepared hot chocolate for all and the wonderful special needs adult team had baked Christmas cookies! The decorations were out on benches that corralled the teens into the centre of the room in a nice cozy group focused on the tree.
As always, the teens lined up in cabin groups outside and, with my signal. entered the room in silence listening to the song of the day. This morning one of my favourite Christmas CD’s by the Indigo Girls was playing. As the campers sat squished together on the floor, I joyfully announced that we would be celebrating Christmas. I had the hot chocolate brought out on trays and the beautifully decorated cookies passed out. I encouraged them to share with one another their favourite Christmas traditions and what made the celebration so special and meaningful to them. The room was...very quiet...and hot...really hot.
I had forgotten one of my own golden rules: “people before program”. I was so excited to share with them my own favourite time of year and to get them into that wonderful spirit that I ignored the elements and the comfort of the participants. They would much rather have been spread out in the shade with cool glasses of water or, better yet, in the lake. Even as a team of carollers strolled the room while singing the most cherished Christmas hymns in 4 part harmony, the teens seemed thoroughly unimpressed. The carollers, such dedicated staff members, had even dressed the part and were just dripping with sweat.
As we collected the mugs (not many of them empty), I began to ask the teens and staff to share their treasured Christmas moments with the whole group. Many of the staff members were helpful in getting the discussion going. Listening to the shared traditions began to lift the mood and folks began to smile and nod in understanding. I had thankfully salvaged some of what I had tried to create.
We talked about how their worlds are different at Christmas time. We shared how people seem kinder, gentler, more ready to speak to strangers and wish them well. As we delved into today’s “World Vision”, we discussed what our world would look like if every day was Christmas day. We ended off this time of sharing by asking ourselves why we don’t treat one another with this kindness and thoughtfulness every day.
It was time to get them up and moving. Once again, I paired them with a new cabin group and they shook hands with one another and introduced themselves. I was thrilled to note today that I didn’t even need to ask them to do this but they started all on their own. Each new grouping became a team and, today and on purpose, they were made up of one male and one female cabin. I had them run a relay race in which the first person ran to the other side of the room, left his or her shoes and ran back to the back of their line. The next person then ran to the shoes, took off his or her own, put on the first person’s shoes (as best they could) and ran back. This continued until the last person returned and sat down. Pairing them as male and female cabins got a great mixture of feet sizes! Some found it quite difficult to run in shoes either far too small or far too big.
Of course we debriefed the activity. It did not take them long to get to the point of the exercise. Everyone has a different walk in life and sometimes we need to understand other's situations in order to show them kindness and goodness. Sometimes we need to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”.
Under the tree, there was a gift for each cabin. They were beautifully wrapped and loving prepared by members of the senior staff. At Cairn, program staff and leadership team members have the opportunity to be “grandparents”. They are given a cabin group and get to visit, have the occasional meal with, say goodnight, and generally spoil the campers. And, just like grandparents, they leave the disciplining to the “parents” or counsellors but are there to offer advice and support. I had asked the “grandparents” to write a letter to their cabin group days before. It was to be a letter highlighting what they appreciated about each person and outlining their hopes and dreams for them all. I asked one person from each cabin to get their gift from the tree and to go back to their cabin group, circle up and have one volunteer open the gift and share it with the others. I asked them to do it quietly so as to be respectful to all those others reading in the room at the same time. While they opened their gifts and read their letters, another Christmas hymn played.
I was hoping the gift would have several effects; I wanted them to have that warm and wonderful feeling from hearing someone they admired and respected say such kind and thoughtful things and I hoped they would see that it did not take a physical item to be a wonderful gift. It was very fulfilling to watch their faces as the letters were read.
We came together again and shared ways in which we can begin to be kind to others right here and now. The campers decided that huge extravagant means are not necessary to be kind and generous. We discussed that there are 2 types of people in the world - the I-centred, me-first people and the others-centred people. I asked them 2 questions: which kind of person are you? Which kind of person would you like to be? We ended this group chat with the idea that if one person has the courage to care perhaps others will be inspired to care too and what amazing changes we could see in the world.
As usual, I had planned far too many activities for the hour but had time for 1 more. I asked them to decide what gift they had to give. What could they put out there and share with the world. In silence they wrote a letter to God and promised to share their gift. The carollers sang in the background as they wrote and, one by one, the campers came to the tree and put their gifts in a box with a gift tag made out to God. They were assured no one would ever read what they had written.
As they ended their morning session, they turned to one another, wished each other well, and headed out. As they left the dining hall, I handed each cabin group a note asking them to give a gift to another cabin sometime during the day (I made sure to name the cabin to be certain each group would receive something).
With lessons learned (by all of us) and hearts filled, these kind and wonderful campers went out to face the day - caring for one another, treating each other with respect and dignity, and doing their best to stay cool!
Happy Holidays To You All
At this time of year, I wish you all a joyous season. No matter what you celebrate this time of year, may you and your family and friends set aside time to gather, share fellowship, laughter, and memories, count your blessings and be kind to all you meet. Any may you carry that feeling with you all year round.
Until next time...