Campers are about to arrive and I’m trying to stop and take a breath, to mentally prepare for the 5 days ahead. It’s going to be a whirlwind and a roller coaster, full of ups and downs and excitement and emotions and tears and smiles and high-fives and hugs and so many more things that I can’t even begin to think about. Camp will be exhausting and it will be challenging, but it will also, without doubt, be the most fulfilling experience I could ever have. I love it. It’s been 5 years and I keep coming back, will always come back, can’t imagine ever having a life without Ultimate Peace in it.
But right now, something is missing. A piece of our puzzle is missing. There is a hole in the heart, mind, and extremities of this body we call Ultimate Peace. The reason for that is not that anyone here is slacking. It is not that anyone here is not working or not giving. It has to do with the identities present. Right now, we are missing a vital piece of program and of ourselves.
The reason for that is the borders. The borders are closed and because of this our Palestinian peers, mentors, teammates, co-workers, and ultimately, friends, will not be joining us today. We hope they will be able to join us soon. I can’t give an answer as to why the borders are closed or what we can do about it, and even if I could, that is not the conversation I want to have. That is not the direction I am going.
Do you want to know where I am going? If you do, let me ask you something else. Why do you want to know? You see, I wish that we could have this conversation, speak to each other back and forth because I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hear the voices and perspectives of others. Last night, one of our staff members gave a 15 minute presentation about the (condensed) history of the region. I took two Jewish history courses this year – as academic, not religious experiences – and had received a different type of knowledge than that which I gained last night. Within the presentation there were maps, numbers, and what seemed to be fact and provable evidence. But what the talk was truly about, from my personal understanding of it, was that amidst those facts and figures are stories, perspectives – “truths” – as our friend called it. I have a truth, and you have a truth. Both are legitimate. Both are meaningful. Both have shaped the people we have become in our world, both collective and separate. So what happens when those two truths collide? When they don’t match up? When the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit?
In high school, I wrote a sort of existentially-toned paper about perspective and reality. The relationship between the two has troubled me for as long as I can remember, and this paper was the culmination of it. In it I reflected upon an interaction my peers and I had had with poet Li-Young Lee. He had asked us to picture an object and its shadow. When the light moved, so did the shadow. When we looked it from one angle we perceived differently than we had from another angle. What we had seen and what we were seeing were two different things but they depended on the same physical, perhaps even arbitrary, object.
Camp this year will be life-changing and peace-bringing and Spirited as usual. What is different is that at this point in time, at this very moment, we are missing an angle. When our mission is to build bridges of friendship and understanding between groups of people and one group cannot be here, it inhibits much more than our mission.
I cannot, will not, and do not want to talk about politics or governmental solutions. What I want to talk about is people. Ultimate Peace by itself cannot stop the violence in the Middle East. It cannot stop the wars and land disputes and religious extremists who exist in every group. What it might do, if we all refuse to give in to exhaustion and if we all find the fire of passion in ourselves – staff and campers combined – it might start to wipe out some of the hate, some of the prejudice, some of the mistrust. As MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Here at camp, we hold the light and we give the love. We embody it every day and we refuse to give in to anything else. That is why I keep coming back. That is why Ultimate Peace and the beautiful, brilliant young activists I get to be with here have become the central point of my life and what I believe my life’s purpose to be. David asked us in our last meeting before campers arrived, “who has been waiting all year for this?”
We all have been. And the light is the reason. The light is the collection of identities, stories, and experiences. Without those, there would be no richness to our camp. Our differences enrich us, enlighten us, and ultimately make us human. Our ability to remember and to identify make us who we are as a human race. It’s gotten us into trouble only because of how important it is to us. Here at camp, we share it. We don’t discriminate because of it; we welcome it, we embrace it. With it we shed our light on others.
That’s my answer as to where I’m going with this writing. Now why do you want to know? Why have you read this far on such a lengthy post? If I may, I’ll take a shot at the answer: I think it’s because you want my perspective. Not because it’s mine, specifically, but because you want another human, another person, another life to consider. To think about. Our identities: our stories, perspectives, truths, and realities are what draw us to one another – whether in love or in hate, whether in peace or in war. If you are reading this, please ask yourself why. What is it that you crave?
I read to find identities. I read fiction because I want to read about people who have been constructed and I want to learn from how they see the world. I read autobiographies and historical novels and speeches because I want to know what people have thought about the world or worlds in which they live. I want to understand those worlds and I want to understand why the people living in them think the way they do. I write because I want people to understand my world and my perspectives and my reality. Because ultimately, even though we see the same object, we see its shadow at different angles and therefore our realities can seem far removed from one another.
But they don’t have to be. My purpose here, at camp and I strive to make it my purpose all year long, is to accept those realities that differ from my own, to see and understand them, and to help create the space for others to do the same. That is what Ultimate Peace has done for me; that is what Ultimate Peace does.
Ultimate Peace will do that at camp this summer once again. I have absolutely no doubts that it will. And I can’t wait to watch it and help it happen. But there is an undeniable piece of our puzzle missing right now. Because of conflict, our Palestinian friends cannot join us. How are we supposed to put together this puzzle of identities and realities if all of them are not here with us? No identity can or will be forgotten, but we cannot replace them either. Identity often implies nationality or some big question of lineage, but here, when I say identity, I reference stories. I reference experiences and realities and truths and while they are inextricably intertwined with nationality and heritage, here at camp we choose to look at who we are today. We focus on our forehands and backhands and marks and ultimately Spirit. We focus on sharing ourselves and our cultures. We focus on the realities we see and we focus on how to make those realities more peaceful.
It hurts, that due to conflict we can’t all come together, physically, right now. It hurts because these wise, mature, beautiful young leaders who have so much love in their hearts deserve better. They deserve better than war and fear and hatred. They deserve so much more. It’s unfair, and it hurts. I tell myself, we tell ourselves, that this is exactly why we’re here. That the rising conflict just makes our being here more important. And it’s true. But there’s no denying the pain we feel at the prospect of being here without our Palestinian friends for the time being. We are missing a part of our collective identity because we are missing individual truths.
The conflict affects us all in different ways. But we all see reality, and what we have in common is our goal. What we have in common is our light, and our love, and that leads the way to a place of hope, understanding, and acceptance. Only light, only love, can drive out darkness and hate. The differences in our identities and truths have driven us apart in the past. But here at camp, they bring us together, and they always will.