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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Camp Cross RSS
Fiona 'fishes' off the dock at Camp Cross

Everyone needs a Camp Cross. It’s the place you return once or twice a year or every few years for R & R (Rest and Relaxation, or, since it’s an Episcopal Church camp, Rejoicing and Renewal, or maybe Reflection and Reconciliation…). I didn’t put the puzzle pieces together until this year, but you also come to camp for RSS – not Real Simple Syndication (where an online feed alerts you to new blog posts or news articles), but Remarkable Sharing Sessions. Swapping stories with other campers is like getting an audio/video version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
This moment is all you have

First, some background:

Our family’s visited camp at Lake Coeur d’Alene since 2005, when Fiona was 17 months old and Finley was a burgeoning tummy bump. I lie on the rocky beach in Loff’s Bay, belly imprisoned in maternity spandex, reading Ina May Gaskin’s natural childbirth manifesto, Spiritual Midwifery 

            “Listen:”  I’d poke Sean and excitedly say, “This woman had a ten-pound baby WITHOUT DRUGS following a prior C-Section. She did it, and I bet I can, too!” (Inspired by stories like the ones in Ina May’s book, several months later, I had a natural birth with seven pound, three-ounce Finley. I credit Gartner’s RSS –which I read twice on the camp beach - with instilling inspiration and courage).

Fiona, still lacking confidence to walk unaided, repurposed plastic chairs as walking aids in Wells dining hall. The next year, we brought both kids – toddler Fiona and baby Finley back to camp, where Finley nursed nearly non-stop and Fiona asked the Bishop for a second helping of communion bread, saying, “Want MORE body of Christ!” Even as camp newbies, we were amassing our own library of Tales from Camp Cross.

Family camp was the last trip we took together – just days before Sean got sick in 2009.

I returned months after Sean’s death in 2010 to scatter his ashes in the campfire.

I returned again this year, more than two years post-mortem, with the usual over-abundance of gear: sleeping bags, pillows, too many clothes – plus a new perspective, a new love and awareness of the new life awaiting us in New Zealand.

Camp Cross allows you to revisit your mental photo album. Right over there….that cross on the dock…I remember daydreaming on that spot…. I see Finley’s chocolate ice cream smile peering above a dining hall table – his three-year-old cheeks rosy and radiant… Smell the morning’s bacon and the fire crackling in the fireplace…. Taste grilled cheese and tomato soup with oregano – or is it basil? Hear bear claws scratching the side of the cabin at 3 am – (I’m later told these are actually chipmunks or squirrels).  Awaken to the sound of nylon sliding from a plastic mattress followed by the ‘thud’ of a toddler hitting the cabin’s wooden floor at midnight…Smile when Sean says, ‘You know, the boat cruise – without kids – is the best part of Family Camp.’ Flip the pages.
Before breakfast - Wells dining hall

This year’s RSS:

(Remarkable Sharing Sessions, spread throughout camp like pine cones):

On the deck you hear, once more, the story of a fellow widow whose husband died of a brain tumor. You marvel at her courage and wince at the visceral memory –the heart pain- of loss during that first awful year.

Inside Wallace Hall you hear another brain tumor story. This tale, however, ends in survival, recovery and preservation of family.

At Wells Hall, during breakfast, you listen to a couple describe how a drunk driver nearly killed their teenage daughter. The daughter arrives at camp using a walker, but now you see her limping without it.

On the beach, another couple tells you their ten-year-old son is thriving following a liver transplant two years ago. He received half an adult liver after his own mysteriously failed.

In this same spot, a woman tells you how she drove all night with her husband and three children– from Washington to Utah - to comfort a friend whose husband had died –completely by surprise - in his sleep.

Back at Wallace, you learn about a young couple’s plans for missionary work in the center of Africa, in Congo. The husband, a pilot, will fly medical and supply missions. The wife will look after their one-year-old son and learn to navigate a new country where poverty’s the norm and white people are not.

At Wells, you listen to the missionaries’ parents describe the anguish of anticipation – the realization their grandson will soon live eight thousand miles (give or take a few hundred) and a large ocean away. You later Google search the distance between your kids’ grandparents in Ohio and your new home in New Zealand – and learn it’s eight thousand miles (give or take a few hundred).

During these Remarkable Sharing Sessions, you feel something familiar – transcendence- even if just for a second – the ability to soar above quotidian concerns. It’s happened before at camp. It’s not something you can force. It’s possible to transcend – stress, pretense, preoccupation with name, rank and serial number - if you’re not rushed. Listening to others' stories allows us to shake off our cares like a labrador retriever shakes off a swim.  That doesn’t happen when you’re scurrying between work, chores, appointments, sports and social engagements. It doesn’t happen while texting, web surfing or Facebooking. It happens when we retreive our dusty “I’m listening” sign from the closet and hang it around our necks.

It happens at places like Camp Cross.

For me, camp is holy not because of prayers we say or songs we sing. It’s holy because of stories we share.

The things that matter to us most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are moments when we touch one another, when we are there in the most attentive or caring way. This simple and profound intimacy is the love that we all long for. ~Jack Kornfield

[Thanks, Tina Jennen, for posting this quote]

Where do you engage in RSS? (Remarkable Sharing Sessions)

Where are you most likely to experience transcendent moments?


  1. Dawn, Beautifully written! You have a knack for insight and writing what's on your heart. Yes, our stories are so interwoven. It's like Grand Canyon - did you see that movie? Thank you for this special experience. I guess I'm going back to Sandpoint this weekend - another place where I have RSS with some of the most amazing people, my soul sisters. Love and peace to you, Dawn.

  2. Thanks, Heather (can't believe I didn't respond sooner!) Haven't seen Grand Canyon, but I may have to! I'm so glad you got to share in Camp Cross.