Forgiving Each Other Daily

friendships and community at summer camp

If you ask most people why they come to camp, the friendships and community will probably be high on the list. Rockbrook’s entire focus is on relationships; it’s the foundation of everything else. Even teen camp girls talk about how their friendships at camp are different than other friends: they get closer more quickly. There are many reasons for this: the ability to be oneself without the same judgment that they experience at home, the prevalence of real conversations that are uninhibited by technology, the idyllic setting and the slower pace of life at camp are all apart of it. Yet there is also a part of it that we do not talk about as often, but I think it may be one of the most important lessons we learn at camp: the ability to have differences and disagreements, and to learn how to compromise and forgive one another.

Living together is mostly fun: we experience the connection that comes with being part of something bigger than ourselves, to get to know others from different backgrounds, to experience laughing so hard our stomachs hurt when someone reflects on their “high, low, funny.” Yet living together can also be uniquely challenging, and I don’t think we really would want it any other way. We are asked to consider the group’s needs before our own, to refill the basket of bread if we were the last ones to get a piece, to go along with a skit idea even if it wasn’t our first choice, to do chores for the good of the cabin. We learn how to work together in order to achieve a common goal.

According to Tuckman’s stages of group development, these sacrifices are less challenging in the beginning of a group’s time together, what he terms the “forming” stage. This is where everyone is still getting to know the others, and everyone is careful of everything. Making the small sacrifices is easy for the first few days; then, it gets more challenging, what Tuckman calls the “storming” phase. This is when we know each other well enough to express our individual needs, to talk about what we could do better. Frequently, people shy away from the storming phase, but it’s actually a great sign in group development. Storming means that we trust each other with our personal needs, can loosen up and feel more at home, and in having more challenging conversations, we are able to move into deeper levels of friendship. Then, we get into norming, which is the stage when we move past the storms and learn to live with each other in this closer, deeper space.

summer camp girls ready for a skit

Of course, during storming, conflict can arise. We will all face conflict so many times in our lives, but what makes camp special is the way it prepares campers to resolve conflict in a safe environment with lots of support. A common time for conflict to arise during storming is while planning skits, or while planning an event like today’s Miss RBC. Miss RBC is an event that is a spoof on a beauty pageant, where all cabins perform a “talent” (usually a song or a skit) for the rest of the camp. Then, at the end, the representative from the cabin who won is crowned “Miss RBC.” The event is so joyful to watch, with cabinmates proud of each other for their finished product. Yet until then, it is challenging to come up with a concept, get the entire cabin to agree on it, and practice until it is where you want it to be. Everyone wants their idea to be heard and understood, and wants to have just the perfect role. When this doesn’t happen, sometimes conflict arises. We continue to ask campers to plan skits and Miss RBC, though, partly because it presents them with a challenge. In tackling that challenge and reaching a final product, campers learn a multitude of intangible lessons about the challenges and possibilities that come from working together.

At home, when we are faced with a conflict, we may go hide in our rooms or get away from the situation. At camp, we have to address it, and though this is challenging, it also teaches us that conflict is okay and empowers us to learn how to resolve it and compromise. Here is a place where, if conflict becomes overwhelming, girls will go find their counselor, and their counselor will model a calm and fair way of resolving it. It’s a place where we learn how to deal with some of these conflicts ourselves. And it’s a place where we learn how to be forgiving.

I once had a professor who told our class, “I truly believe that we are forgiving each other daily,” and I think this applies so aptly to camp life. We all have to make compromises every day when we are all living together, like waiting for the girl who is running late to archery or letting a cabinmate have the lead role in the skit. Yet we are in a place that reminds us that, even when it’s hard, we should always look for the best in others. So we learn to forgive, to be friends even after we have been frustrated with someone, to put into perspective what is a big deal, and what we do not need to spend our energy on. We learn that we are worthy of being loved even when we make a mistake or hurt someone else’s feelings. It is through conflict and forgiving each other that our friendships deepen and grow in our ability to solve problems, and keep patience and perspective.

skit performance of girls cooperating

Every night before bed, girls say the Rockbrook Prayer, reciting in part, “Forgive us if we are unkind and help us to forgive those who are unkind to us.” In this quietly profound hope that we say together, we end our day with a fresh slate, a new beginning for the next day. We take responsibility for the humanness in us and accept the humanness in others. This is such an important part of growing up and being a good person, and living together in community enables us to practice conflict resolution and compromise a lot, to figure out how to graciously respond when we are frustrated with each other, or when we don’t get exactly what we want. That’s what it means to be part of something larger than ourselves, and we are so lucky to have a place like Rockbrook that allows us to care so much about our community that we are willing to forgive and compromise with them.

Unbreakable Sisterhood

This Sunday’s chapel set the perfect tone going into the last week of camp for our Second Session campers. The theme was “We’re All in This Together.” Yes, it may sound like one of our favorite High School Musical songs (which was, indeed, performed during the service), but it was an opportunity to remind ourselves of the family that exists for us at camp even after we leave, as we get ready to say goodbye.

goofy teen girls
smiling teen girls
teen girls smile

Forever friendship is a an undeniably powerful, recurring aspect of camp. Just listen to a few of our songs: “And when we say farewell, it shall not mean goodbye. The spark we lit at Rockbrook we know in ages ne’er will die;” “Turn around and we are strangers, turn around and we are friends, turn around and we are sisters forever to be.”

An important part of this connection between Rockbrook girls that was talked about in chapel is that we don’t have to see each other that often to maintain this bond. Also, because of the shared treasured experiences that we’ve all had, sometimes we don’t need to know each other very well at first to feel like sisters. For instance, I’m thrilled to meet Rockbrook girls at reunions or run into them outside of camp, because I know that this person just gets it. Without being particularly similar at all, there’s a little spark when you’re together and you both know you’re on the same team. Like a camper said during chapel, “After you leave camp, you know there’s a Rockbrook family who’s always going to have your back.”

But don’t just take my word for it! Read a speech from one of our older campers, Annie, who was selected by her counselors to speak about the theme:

Hi. If you don’t already know me, my name is Annie and this is my 8th year at camp. When asked to speak today about the theme, “We’re all in this together,” I suppose you could say that I was hesitant. Not because I didn’t have anything to say or because I don’t believe this theme applies to camp, which I do by the way. The real reason I was hesitant is due to having too much to say and not enough time or courage to stand in front of you to recite the past 8 wonderful years to y’all.

When thinking about this theme though, I feel the necessity to look back to my first day as a Rockbrook girl and how I was embraced into the welcoming, compassionate, and completely understanding community. I was just another 7 year old who was afraid of her own shadow, a complete homebody, and was unwilling to personally embrace the change of environments away from all I knew. This all changed when I immediately entered a circle of friendship and all my doubts dissipated. I soon learned that my cabin mates were going through the same experiences as me of leaving home, being placed into new circumstances, as well as being taken in with open arms. That was my first realization at camp that I was not alone, but that we are all in this together.

When I think of camp, I think of a community and a family. We have an unspoken code between friends and family, through the thick and thin of life. Rockbrook girls have stuck together since 1921. Generations of girls connected spanning the globe. Remember to embrace one another, look at each other with compassion, and most importantly remember that we’re all in this together, whatever that may be. Rockbrook girls stick together.

What Home Really Is

As second session girls prepared to depart, they wrote many of their thoughts about camp down for Spirit Fire. Girls from every line are invited to speak in front of the rest of the camp about what this summer at Rockbrook has meant to them. These speeches were particularly thoughtful; as such a long and beautiful session ended, sincere sentiments were met with smiles and tears as the girls prepared to leave. Although it is now third session, it seems like a great time to share this poem that two campers created and read at the end of second session spirit fire. I expect that all girls who have ever been to Rockbrook (or who are coming for the first time) will be able to relate to it.

Easy Time at the Lake
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It’s hard to explain what home really is.

Your friends at school,
Your group, your clique,
Pressure getting A’s,
Pressure fitting in:
Perfect.

The love and care from mom and dad,
The entertainment from brothers and sisters
A variety of choices
From restaurants to malls:
The usual.

It’s hard to explain what home really is.

Your friends in your cabin,
A fun group, but not a clique
The pressure fitting in is not as much of a challenge
Growing, learning to be myself:
To be my type of perfect.

Love and care from counselors and directors,
Entertainment from the hi-ups and CA’s, our role models
A variety of choices:
Adventures, activities, creativity:
Not the usual,
Once a year…

But home.

How can two places, so special, so different, still be home?
Stripped away from air conditioning, electronics, and carpeted floors?

Home away from luxury–
More alive,
More real…

It’s hard to explain what home really is.
I guess we all have two.

Written for Second Session Spirit Fire by Karma B. and Sam H.

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