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Courage and Freedom

One of the ladies I enjoy learning from gave a big speech the other day. The whole thing is worthwhile but I wanted to focus on a story she relayed near the end: 

…when, on a trip to Israel, I met my hero and now my friend, Natan Sharansky, I really only had one question for him. I asked him if it was possible to teach courage. 

He paused and said this: “No. You can’t teach it. You can only show people how good it feels to be free.

Bari Weiss, 92nd Street Y Address

By now, if you’ve been a part of Weequahic or read anything we’ve written, you’ve come across our feeling about ‘courage.’ I’ve written about it a few times. 

As a person who beats the drum about ‘courage,’ I was stopped by Mr. Sharansky’s reply. And, I think he may be right. 


So, before we start, how do we define courage? The Oxford Dictionary defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one.  So, in other words, you’ve got to be afraid in order to be courageous. 

It doesn’t matter if you are feeling fear from looking down from the zipline station or getting on the bus for the first time, getting up on stage to address the whole camp or connect with your new bunkmate soon-to-be friends. Feeling no fear? No courage is needed. 

And, without courage, there is no freedom – from fear or anything else. Campers, this is important:

Just because you ‘feel’ fear doesn’t mean you are ‘captured’ by it. You still have the freedom to act as you’d like. It’s simply up to you.

Viewing Courage

When I think of teaching, I mostly think of book-learning and Mrs. Vipperman introducing biology to me as a seventh grader, chalk in hand and frog in front of me. (She was a heck of a teacher – and very memorable.) And, I’ve learned (a bit) about courage and the freedom it creates from books.

I’ve read a lot about people who have shown courage. Whether it be about Dr. King or George Washington or Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Harry Potter or John Snow, I’ve got stories and stories and stories in my head of people who lived ‘free.’ 

From these stories, we can be introduced to courage and living free. It’s better, though, to be surrounded by people from whose example you can learn in real time. 

‘Doing’ Courage

The second best way to learn how to live free is to watch those around you. At camp, counselors come to mind first. They’ve chosen to become part of something larger than themselves and pour everything they have into making the summer amazing. It takes courage on their part to do so. Why? Because it would be so much easier staying home and working at the GAP or the coffee shop or doing an internship in some big office. But… those things are rarely as meaningful, purpose-full or fun.

The next group I think about as ‘examples’ are our CITs. Watching them balance their responsibilities of leading camp with the fantastic benefits of being a CIT (fridge in your bunk, more flexible time, their own Cove space, etc.) is very instructive. 

The very best way, though, to learn anything (just about) is to do it. Badly, at first, most likely. When you learned to walk, it was a stumbling, bumbling, hair raising experience for both you and your parents (for different reasons.) But you learned. 

Courage is the same way. Start off by standing up against something small that frightens you. For example….

I remember young Luke being afraid of snakes at first. With the help of a fantastic naturalist and surrounded by his parents, Luke (barely) touched a small black snake.  A little later that day, he held it with the naturalist’s hands underneath his own. After learning more and taking instruction seriously, a few days later Luke handled the snake on his own. Ultimately, he wound up showing other kids the snakes and helping them through their own fear.


What does it take to build courage? A couple of things: 

1.     Opportunity – you can’t start practicing if you don’t have the opportunity. Camp, as you may have already guessed, is a great opportunity. So is the classroom! 

2.     Encouragement – Get around people who you KNOW want the best for you and let their support put wind in your sails. Your parents, coaches, teachers, siblings (yes, I said it) and close friends. And DEFINITELY your camp people.

3.     Curiosity – You’ll never know what is on the other side of that fear you are feeling until you experience it. If your curiosity edges out your fear, you’ll be ready to show the courage to try. 

4.     Safety Net – Hey, Miguel would never let you on the trapeze without the net, your safety harness and several good pairs of hands to support you. Kiera and Osmar wouldn’t let you climb without your harness, a properly tied rope, helmet and spotter. Make sure you’ve got your safety net around you… and then jump!

Courage will open up the world to you. You’ll be able to enjoy more thoughtful relationships, experience deeper satisfaction and extend past your self-perceived limits. There will certainly be bumps in the road and…, well, so much more joy, too. 

Go on, camper. Take the first step to get past that fear and feel the joy of being free. We’ll be here to help.

Lesson in the Woods

While Kate traveled with our middle son to a college visit recently, I took over the enjoyable task of walking camp dog Maverick. Not too far from our home sits a relatively new network of paths through a beautiful wood. Being a lovely Saturday morning, we took a field trip to the trails. Little did I know it would lead to a lesson.

The trails had been laid out by a family wanting to leave a positive impact. It wound through the woods, across and alongside streams, under a patchwork canopy of beautiful leaves for just under 3 miles.

But the path itself… there are stumps and rocks and roots. After stumbling a few times while watching Maverick bound around, I realized it was important to pay attention to on the path itself. That’s when I ran into the spider webs….

I’m not talking about little spiders and simple little webs. The newly arrived Jurro spiders are really something and their webs like to stick. (They look a lot more dangerous than they are….)

Against Me? Nope….

The stumps, the rocks, the webs, the spiders… for a moment, it felt like everything on this beautiful trail was out to get me. But, as Mav rollicked by me, I realized all those things had nothing to do with me. If I wanted to make it out of the woods safely, I needed to pay attention to the path and what was around it. But if I wanted to enjoy the experience, I needed to take some time to look around and enjoy the scenery, the leaves and the dog.

So how does one do both? I think it’s by accepting that, as we walk along a beautiful path, there are going to be bumps and bruises, a few spider webs and maybe even a tree branch you run into. Those things aren’t out to get you. They weren’t traps set just for you. They were simply the result of sharing this world with all of the plants and creatures and nature itself.

As many with many things, this reminded me about camp. Camp is BEAUTIFUL. Sly Lake glistens, the trees are tall, the grass green and the bunks comfortable. And, sometimes, you get bumped into in the Dining Hall and your food plops to the floor. You get a great note from home that actually makes you miss home a bit more than it props you up. Or, try as you might, you can’t quite master getting the wakeboard under your feet.   

Your Choice

Do these (very natural) setbacks take away from the beauty and joy of the experience of being at camp? They can… if you let them. However, if you realize these things are ‘not out to get you’ but rather simply the small bumps that you’ll inevitably get when experiencing camp (or school or working or… life!), you’ll be able to take more moments to look around and enjoy it all.

Remember, in a beautiful walk through the woods, you may stumble on a root or have spider web or two clinging to your shoulders. That’s ok. Those just add to the experience of a beautiful journey. We should be grateful for these little bumps and reminders!

No Words….

I’ve been trying to put all of the feelings and concerns and thoughts about this past week in Israel and Gaza into words. For the first time in a long while, I don’t think I can do it in a way that would communicate the heartbreak I’ve felt this week.

So, I’ll say this:

We have a number of friends and families who have been directly affected by all that has gone on during this past week. We stand with y’all and will support you however we can.

For our campers who are frightened and confused by this violence and all the news coming out of Israel and Gaza, I’ll pass along one bit of wisdom introduced to me by Munner, my grandmother. One of her favorite verses from the Old Testament adorns more than a few Temples and schools I’ve visited. It seems appropriate to remember and put into action now.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

  And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

  And to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

Love y’all. If we can help, let us know.