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Summer Reading Roundup (Part 1)

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Ever the optimist, I amass a large stack of summer reading material on my bedside table at camp.  Much of it sits unread; the long workdays and crisp mountain air conspire against me as I drift off to sleep after the first page or two every night.  This year I brought some magazines along, hoping that they would prove to be more manageable than novels, and I was not disappointed.

In the first week of the session, I began and finished the latest edition of Psychology Today. You will notice that I am slightly outdated, since it hit the newsstands in early May.  Nevertheless, I have included the link and urge you to pick up a copy soon, because I believe that it will soon be replaced by the July issue. Three articles really caught my attention.  Whether you missed them or read them early last month, you will find them worthy of a closer read.

1. The feature titled “Wee Wisdom” is just a teaser of quotations from the magazine’s bloggers. My favorite among them is from Nando Pelusi, about learning to play:  “Children can get absorbed in a task without needing to categorize what they’re doing. Resisting judgment and categorization is a skill we could all reclaim. For example, ‘wasting time’ gets a bad rap, but I’ve learned important things about life and myself while playing.” I couldn’t agree more: adults could learn a lot from the way that children engage in imaginative play.

2. “How to Be Modest” by Mark D. White was my favorite of the shorter articles. You can read his earlier blog post about the topic, but the article in this issue was an even better read.

3. I found myself most captivated by Bruce Grierson’s piece about genetic screening, “To Know or Not to Know.”  I believe it deserved to be the cover article—he presented the topic in depth and with sensitivity.  I intend to reread it as I prepare my sermons for the High Holidays.

I hope that you are enjoying your summer reading and welcome your thoughts about mine.  Just click on the title of this post and leave a comment!

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Leader of the Pack

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Not long ago, I found myself grieving as my dog suffered through a period of serious illness that I believed would kill her.  Now that she has recovered, I am ready to reflect on this experience and share what I have learned.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried, and then laughed at myself for crying, and then cried again, as I arrived at the realization that I am utterly unprepared for the inevitable. My brain knows that this beautiful creature—a loyal member of our pack for her entire adulthood and my son’s childhood thus far—will not live forever.  But my heart cannot comprehend this fact. The human brain has limitations; it cannot always convince the heart to accept the truth with grace.

I can see that the symptoms she exhibits are mostly related to her advancing years.  But she still behaves like a younger dog, especially when I lace up my running shoes and grab the leash.  She is slowed only by the older dog’s achy joints.  My misery stems from my awareness—coupled with her apparent ignorance—that she is aging at a faster rate than I am. We are no longer the middle-aged walkers we both once were.

Caring for an aging dog stirs up unresolved issues about death and forces us to examine our own mortality, as well as the mortality of our human loved ones.  I know of no way to prepare for grief, but I am beginning to understand how the heart can be primed to grieve more deeply.  Perhaps the role of the leader of the pack is to teach us that in life we must face death, by reaching inside our hearts and allowing ourselves to feel both the anticipated pain and the unexpected joy of being alive.

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Continuing the Conversation

 “Good conversational debate is an end in itself, and talking for the love of conversation is what makes us human.” –Malcolm Gladwell (in Outliers)

Like me, you have probably spent a lot of your adult life sitting in meetings. Although a teacher’s primary location in school is the classroom, there are still scores of meetings that teachers must attend: all-faculty meetings, department meetings, pre-planning meetings, end-of-the-year meetings, meetings with students and meetings with parents.  Without a calculator in hand, I would be hard-pressed to tally up all the hours I spent at school meetings.

Staff week at summer camp is another setting for countless meetings.  To be fair to those who plan and lead these meetings, I must agree that they are necessary.  The final days before campers arrive provide the last opportunity for staff to plan the entire camp session, in which there will be only occasional, fleeting moments to reflect upon successes and shore up strength to deal with challenges.  There isn’t much time for sitting at meetings.

Nevertheless, it is important to have conversations at camp. Over the years, I have found that informal conversations, which are consistently interrupted, can be productive.  The trick is returning to the conversation—picking up the threads of the discussion when they are frayed and reestablishing the connection between colleagues.  The actual topic of the conversation is secondary to the fact that it continues for an entire camp session.

If you are headed off to camp for your summer job, remember to take the time to talk to your coworkers and get to know them through a continuing, interrupted conversation. You will secure the bonds of friendship and build a stronger foundation for your working relationship.  And you will retain what makes you human as you meet the superhuman demands of working at camp. 

Wishing the hundreds of camp counselors a safe and productive summer 2011!

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