Category: Life Lessons

Camp Weequahic sleep away camp in Pennsylvania

The Gardener and the Little Girl

*This is a story created for our July 23rd Campfire focusing on gratitude. Enjoy!

A young family purchased an old home by a pond. It shared the pond with another house that could be seen from the porch outside their kitchen. The little girl in the new house spent a lot of time outside looking at the pond… and the house next door.

You see, right next to that well-kept, neat little home was a big garden. It looked wild and beautiful and chaotic and calming all at the same time. It was very curious.  And the little old man who tended the garden was an even greater curiosity.

She couldn’t tell for certain but it seemed to the little girl that whenever the old man walked through the garden, the plants straightened just a bit more, the leaves danced, and the colors got a bit brighter. When her curiosity got the best of her, the little girl decided to investigate.

Creeping silently over to the garden – she was a little girl with very quiet feet – she began to feel happier and calmer at the same time. The air was fresher, much like the air here at camp. The sun was brighter yet not harsh. And the colors! It was like walking through a rainbow.

As she walked garden she noticed lilacs and roses and blueberries and raspberries and pears and daffodils and vines and… hm… those are briars. And, over there, she noticed some weeds. She had helped her mother pull a whole wagon load of those from around their house. And a clump of dandelions that her father really didn’t like. But these weeds had flowered and seemed to be living in harmony with the other plants.

While she was exploring a particularly full blueberry bush, the whole garden got quiet for just a moment. And then, to confirm what she had seen the days before, the old gardener walked in to his garden… and everything got taller and brighter and danced just a bit more.


Was he the reason for this change? As she hid inside the blueberry bush, the little girl watched the old man. He walked differently than most adults she knew. Rather than forging right ahead, swinging their arms and having a face set with purpose, he walked… thoughtfully and almost gingerly. He was barefoot and had a smile on his face and bent down to inspect or share a word with or clip a bit of each plant and flower and shrub and tree and weed he passed.

As he… well, almost glided up to the raspberry bush next to her hiding place, the old gardener said, “My, you raspberries look positively jealous of how full the blueberries are today.” And, with a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye, he looked right at the little girl.

She jumped back. She didn’t want to be in trouble. Rather than being mad, the old gardener sat right down in his spot, laughed, and beckoned her to come out. That’s when she noticed the baby raccoon he had in his lap. Where had that come from?

“It’s ok, dear, you can come out now. I called your mother when I saw you walk into the garden. We are old friends. She knows you are here and asked me to send you home when you are ready. Until then, would you like to share some blueberries with Forrest, here?”

At this, the little girl looked up and saw her mother on their home porch. Her mom waved and gave her the thumbs up. Everything was ok. And, though she couldn’t tell exactly, it seemed as though her mom was smiling and hugging herself.

Venturing out of her not-very-good hiding place, she sat down next to the old gardener. Even though his clothes were old and bare feet dirty from walking in the garden, he smelled fresh. And, though the sun was bright, he seemed brighter still. Forrest the raccoon jumped into her lap and began licking her fingers which were blue with blueberry juice.

“Why does the garden get brighter and taller when you come in?” she asked. She had always been very direct.

The old gardener laughed and said, “You know, it was a trick my wife taught me a long time ago. Back then, I was too busy to garden or notice or even say thank you. But not her. Marigold was kind to everyone, always made time for people, and cared for them. I didn’t know how to really explain how she made me and others feel until I read a note from a guy named Marcel Proust:

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

In order to honor her memory, I do my best to make everyone and everything around me happy.”

The little girl thought for a moment and then asked:

“You don’t walk like most old people I know. Why do you glide the way you do?”

“It was something my grandfather taught me once a long time ago. He was a native American who had learned it from his own grandfather. I’d forgotten what he’d taught me it until a few years ago. He used to tell me, ‘Grandson, we have too much in this world for which to be grateful. It is not enough that we say ‘thank you.’ We must walk as if our feet were kissing the ground.’ I’ve tried to do that more and more since I remembered his lesson.”

That sounded funny but made sense to the little girl. After playing with Forrest a bit, the little girl pointed at the flowering weed with briars on it. “You have such a beautiful garden. Why do you care for the weeds, too?”

“I do pick those weeds from time to time when they get a little too unruly,” he said. “Just the way I prune the rest of the garden. But there is a lot of beauty in weeds just as there is good in the hard things in our world. A very important person told me once that we must be grateful for the difficulties and challenges in our lives for they hold blessings. In fact, we can’t grow without them.”

“Who was that person?” The little girl asked.

The old gardener smiled, looked up, and said, “C’mon, I’ll introduce you.”

And with that, the old gardener stood up and helped the little girl to her feet, Forrest still snuggly in her hands.

As they walked out of the garden towards the house, the old gardener stopped at the post. There was a small book covered from the rain. He took out a pen and wrote something down and then offered it to the little girl.

“Every time I leave here, I write something for which I’m grateful. That means something that has made me happy. Do you want to write something down yourself?”

She looked down and read what he had written: I’m grateful to have finally met my great-granddaughter and for all the teachers and challenges that helped me become the man I am today.

The little girl looked up in surprise. This man was her great-grandfather?

“Honey, I’ve had to work for a long time to become a more kind and grateful person. This garden has helped me get through a lot pain and bad decisions. Thankfully, your mother, my grand-daughter, believed in me enough to move close. And now, I get to be close to you, too.

Now, would you like to write something in the grate-full book?”

Not knowing how to write very well, she simply wrote down ‘me, too’ with a smiley face and her name. Flipping to the front of the book, she noticed her mom’s name in very similar writing as her own.

“C’mon, kiddo,” said her great-grandfather. “Let’s go see your mother. I can’t wait to catch up with both of you.”

Tubing

Constraints

We just enjoyed one more day than we had last year or the year before that or the year before that. We got a bonus day: February 29th.

But did we change anything? Did you spend the whole day reveling in something you rarely if ever enjoy? Perhaps a swim in a chocolate fountain? Maybe you painted your room some really fun colors. Perhaps you spent the entire day with the people who bring out the best in you, laughing to the point of snarfing.

The funny thing is that the calendar is just a constraint for our planning. Our time on earth didn’t change just because the calendar said we had an extra day. We got to enjoy (or not depending on your choice of attitude) the same about of time on the 29th as we did the 28th of February.

Helpful Constraints

Did you know that the beloved children’s book Green Eggs and Ham came from a bet? A good friend bet Dr. Seuss that he couldn’t write a great children’s book using 50 words or less. (Who do you think won the bet?)

What other constraints are useful? We present a number at camp with which our campers and staff are familiar.

No cell phones. No technology except for something that only plays music. We have set bed- times and wake-up times. We have some choice in the Dining Hall but that list is about 5 or 6 items long rather than a full menu at a restaurant. The speed our waterski and tubing boat stays constrained to safe (and fun!) speeds.

When you think about it, we’ve got a LOT more constraints in camp than we do at home on a relaxed weekend. And yet… camp is more fun than a lazy weekend at home. In fact, I would argue that we have more fun at camp BECAUSE of the constraints rather than in spite of them.

We aren’t trying to decide between 50 different ideas of what to do this afternoon. You aren’t trying to decide where to spend your time online. There are no worries about picking your food from a long list of options or your clothes out of your ample closet.

At Weequahic, we narrow things down to the essential, to the events and activities and friends and mentors that help create amazing. These are the situations in which you can flourish, which bring out your best self.

No distractions. No unlimited choice. Just the people and the moments that matter.

Those are the kind of constraints we need in our lives. Have a great weekend!

Performing or Living

We all spend a good bit of time on social media. Whether it’s Insta, TikTok, Snap, Facebook… it absorbs a lot of our time.  We spend most of that time watching rather than producing or commenting. In the supposedly social world online, we are consumers more than anything else.

Sometimes, we put our own thoughts, videos or comments ‘out there’ for others to consume. Hopefully, they react positively, showering our output with favorable reviews, likes, or, even better, comments and shares. Sometimes, we get the opposite: negative reviews. Sometimes it’s even worse – no response at all.

Performing

In these situations, regardless of the outcome, we are performing, aren’t we? We are putting some form of performance out into the medium to which, we hope, others will react. We are hoping to delight, confound, inform, entertain, or shout down.

Shakespeare has a widely known quote about this idea of performance:

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players….”

The same can be said for our homes, classrooms, offices or bunks. Do we play the class clown? What about the studious one? Do we play the martyr. How about the ‘glitter’ or the ‘glue?’

Coming through middle school, I decided I’d play ‘the nice one.’ It helped me with the teachers, certainly, though it didn’t play as well with the other kids. Thankfully, I had two fantastic friends who stuck with me no matter what so it didn’t matter what the others said or thought.

Living

But what happens when we stop performing? When we drop the mask?

‘No [one], for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.’

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Normally, we drop the mask around those who make us feel most safe, the most like ourselves. It’s not about what you are trying to be for others’ approval or expectations. It’s just about being who we actually are.

That’s when we start really living.

Think about the times when you’ve been the most alive, the most excited to be yourself without exception or concern or fear or embellishment. Was it when you rocked a test? How about when you competed and won… or come up just short? Maybe it was in your bunk at camp surrounded by your people.

Looking back over my life to this point, I clearly see the times I wore a mask and performed: my first semester in college, the first graduate course I took as an undergrad, when I wanted to impress a young lady, my first (and second) summer running camp. None of those situations went well.

Lessons Make Us

Without those lessons, I could never have truly learned what makes me come alive.

What are those, you ask? For me, it’s spending time around the campfire with our campers and staff, wrestling with my boys, sitting on the couch with Kate and talking about something we’ve read or listened to, helping a young person grow into a competent, confident adult, cooking something really good….

Do I still perform from time to time? Yes. But those moments are much fewer and further between. And, I’m much better about recognizing those moments, dropping the mask, and returning to the living.

Performing all the time is exhausting. You’ve got to think about the audience, gauge their reactions and change accordingly. It’s a constant juggle and struggle in which even victories are tiring.

Instead, spend more time on being who you are right now or the person you are striving to be. (For example, I’m striving to be a person who eats more salads!) The people in your life who really matter will love you and support you and push you in all the right ways.

Who you are and who you will become is worthy of that love and support and pushing. So, let’s drop our masks, just be ourselves and enjoy it.

Have a great weekend.

(A great book on this subject is Awareness by Anthony De Mello.)