If you have ever wondered what eating, drinking, sleeping, dancing, hiking, showering, etc. would feel like in 110 degree weather, I, along with several other volunteers, could definitely paint you a pretty little picture. Despite the sultriness (and the scorpions we stumbled upon more often than I would have preferred to), camp turned out to be just as pleasant as I had remembered.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what de la Vida is, it is a grief camp for kids who have recently lost a family member. It is run strictly by volunteers and therapists who have an unbelievable passion for children and life itself. It is a week long camp hosted at Camp El Tesoro, which resides along the waterless Brazos River near Granbury, Texas.
De la Vida has really become the highlight of my last two summers. I found myself really anticipating camp this year. Before camp I couldn’t help but feel slightly foggy towards life and my ambitions and purpose due to common collegiate stresses, but camp has had a serious way of picking me up and sending me back in the right direction. It is the definition of “a breath of fresh (hot) air.” I feel recharged and extremely accomplished now that camp has concluded. Camp reminds me that it is okay to sing aloud, dance crazy, pull foolish pranks, paint ugly rocks, and to just be me. Most importantly it reminds me to not take life too seriously. *I am definitely getting a little too cheesy for my taste, and probably for yours too, but I guess I will go ahead and blame that on camp as well.* At camp I find myself smiling until my cheeks hurt, jumping on every opportunity to pull a prank, laughing until I pee my pants, and shaking because I am so scared of breaking a rule in the health house.
The most touching part of camp is watching the campers at the closing ceremony weep as they let out thick tears of grief over their lost loved ones. I found myself weeping, too, as I was overcome with gratitude not only towards the life I have been given, but for the fact that I have been granted the opportunity and honor to impact and learn from these kids’ lives.
A large majority of the campers come from very unfortunate backgrounds and homes and have unsettling stories to share. Many kids are told not to cry and are not allowed to talk about their loved ones, so camp is massive stepping stone in their grieving processes. At camp they talk about their loved ones along with other kids who do not judge them, for they can ultimately relate. They learn to trust one another and they learn that it is okay to cry. They have seen and have been through so much in their short lives that it is impossible to not admire and applaud each and every one of them for his or her courage and strength. Despite all of the hardships they have experienced, they are still normal kids who have so much to offer. They love to laugh and tattle and tease. They love to swim and obsess about dates to the big dance. Despite the anger, guilt, and sorrow they carry, these kids still know how to smile and have fun, and that is something that I admire above all else. Having never lost someone close to me or my family, I learn and carry so much away from these campers. As losing a loved one is a substantial fear of mine, they unknowingly teach me so much about life and have ultimately helped to prepare me for when the inevitable becomes a part of my story.
So, between the Operation Gorilla–the debatably successful kitchen raid, waking up to kids observing my sleeping patterns, spending hours in the pee-filled pool, the “camp engagement,” restless nights, and an extraordinary staff and through the tears, grins, sweat, drama and chuckles comes another story of success at Camp El Tesoro de la Vida.
In case you are still doubting how wonderful camp is, you can check out the front page of the Fort Worth Star Telegram (or click that link) to read an article about de la Vida.