2020 marks the first time in over 49 years that our family has not gathered on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State. My father began directing a family camp at Dunkirk Camp and Conference Center in 1971. Prior to that, we had spent vacations there in our own camper. There were a couple years, during college and seminary, when I had other jobs or lived too far away, that I was unable to attend. But in total, this is probably only about the eighth summer I have not gone there.
I am grieving just being in that sacred place. It is a rare thing to be able to return to the same place throughout the course of your life. My memories from camping at Lake Erie include the painful bee sting as a child and learning to swim in the pool. This is the place where, as a teenager, I felt fully accepted. It is the place where I first met my future spouse. OK, we were in fourth grade at the time and we don’t remember each other, but there are pictures to prove it!
Only in this place would I have felt comfortable enough to lead a silly, unliturgical dance for our camp Olympics while pregnant. Eagle watching. Infectious, creative afternoon hours teaching jewelry making to 50 people of all ages at a time. Playing Frisbee until my fingers had callouses. Corn on the cob over an open fire. Vespers on top of the cliff next to the lake. Blue birds entering the circle at will. Watching hundreds of sunsets over Lake Erie that rival those in Key West or any other exotic spot. The duet between the water, washing against the cliffs below, and the wind, blowing through the leaves of the trees above. The list goes on. I miss these things so familiar. And, in remembering I feel both sadness and a melancholy peace.
Making Time for New Expressions
Because it is too risky to gather with others, I have searched for ways to channel my grief. So, I strung together beads with the leftover camp jewelry-making supplies on wire and hung them in my garden. I emptied baggies of shells collected on that beach to remind me of the sound of the waves. And I soften sit on my deck and close my eyes, as the wind moves the leaves in my backyard, and imagine the trees at camp. I also give thanks for the fact that that place remains such a part of me.
Making Time to Connect with People
But it is more than just the place. I grieve gathering with the people who have shared the experience of family camp with us for all these years. During what would have been our week at camp, we joined some of the campers via Zoom for virtual camp vespers — a background picture of one of the sunsets behind us. With our muted computers, I watched their lips move in the gallery of faces as my spouse played “Pass It On” with his guitar, standing beside me in our home. And I imagined how our voices sound when we are together in person.
We gathered two more times during that week. Once more to share stories — a tradition we would have done if we had been together. And then a third time just to visit and reminisce with photos from years past. Reminding each other that we remember. And we laughed. And it is good to know we do not grieve alone. Underlying our conversations was the hope that we will return. Perhaps next year.
Making Time to Remember and Hope
Are there sacred places that you miss in this season of COVID? May you make time to grieve and remember. May you find ways to share the hope that things will not always be as they are now.
May you, in your grieving, know you are not alone. And may you find others with whom you can share stories about the things that you miss and the people who have nurtured and encouraged you along the way. Laugh into those memories. And allow tears to moisten your cheek, should the sadness well up from within.
Although we cannot always control the waves that come with the grieving process, we can help direct some of the sadness through new rituals to remember. String those memories for others to see. Scatter the gems you collected from that place and share them with the world. Close your eyes and imagine the sounds and smells that take your imagination to that place. And with our remembering and our imagining, we can be open to new ways to heal and embrace hope in the future.