Last night, we held my without-a-doubt favorite event of each session: the shaving cream fight. It is an event at which girls leave their manners in the cabin, put aside all their instincts that demand that they stay clean and orderly, and give no thought to the rules–because there aren’t any.
This event is camp’s equivalent of giving a child an expensive gift for her birthday, only to have her play with the empty box for the next month or so. We spend a lot of time and energy putting on elaborate events for the kids throughout the session. And they do enjoy them–but nothing can quite equal the utter, visceral joy of being handed a bottle of shaving cream, and told to just go nuts.
Something about the simplicity of it all–pick up shaving cream, shake can, spray onto as many people as you can, get as messy as possible–lends itself to a beautiful sort of mindlessness. There’s no goal that you must reach, no way to win or lose, and, most importantly of all, no fear that someone might judge you for looking like a walking marshmallow. There is only the can in your hand, the grass between your toes, and the grin on your face.
It’s the simple pleasures such as this one that I believe is camp’s greatest gift to campers. Too often in the real world (and yes, sometimes even in the camp world), we overlook the tiny things in the world around us that can bring us joy. We are too intent on the big picture, on making this world and our lives exactly what we want them to be, to stop and focus on the details that are of no real use to anybody, but still can chance our lives and make them more beautiful. We tend to miss the trees for the forest.
Take the campers I saw in the lake yesterday, swimming back and forth, intent on finishing their mermaid laps in time to get the Dolly’s trip prize. Would there have been any real harm done if they had stopped their swimming, and floated silently in the sunshine for the rest of Free Swim? What about the camper I talked to a few days ago, trying to race through “Hamlet” before the end of camp, so that she would have time to write her report when she got home? What if she had forgotten the deadline, and taken a few moments to slow down and appreciate the mellifluous rhythms of Shakespeare’s language?
But I know it’s not that easy. Of course everyone would prefer to slow down and appreciate the little things, but the big things feel too important, too pressing to ignore even for a moment. Stopping to smell the roses feels like a luxury that simply cannot be afforded.
But at camp, thank goodness, that particular luxury comes cheaper. Camp gives both campers and staff the chance to slow down and focus the significantly less important, and more joyous, things. Of course there are still moments, even at camp, when we too get caught up in the big picture. The completion of mermaid laps, the execution of the perfect skit, the nitty gritty and ins and outs of the daily schedule, even the completion of a blog post–all of these things can draw our eyes away from the joys all around us.
Which is why the shaving cream fight, and other camp events and activities like it, are so important. They strip down our priorities and interests into those that are most vital to our happiness. They train us to look past the things that seem important, and focus on the quieter things that really are. Put more simply, they allow all of us–camper, counselor, and director–to just slow down for a minute and remember what it feels like to just be kids.