UP Coach Dani Glass writes in about how UP has changed her, and her faith in how UP campers will change the world.
It’s late, as usual. But I’ve always said that my only decent writing comes after 2:00 in the morning. I know I’m not going to be able to sleep, perhaps because of the (I think I’m up to 23?) mosquito bites on my legs, and perhaps because I just have to put something into words. In the interest of my getting more than four hours of sleep, I’m going to try to keep this short but we’ll see how that works out – that’s definitely not my strong suit.
What I want to write about feels in a way very self-centered, as this blog traditionally explains the activities or emphasizes one or two special moments from the day. But at the same time, the nature of this post brings to light the qualities of our brilliant, beautiful, wise, and just – for lack of a better word – incredible young CITs. What I want to write about is how they have changed me. I want to bring them out into the world – I want as many people as possible to know who they are, how they have changed me and others, and how they are on their way to changing the world.
That’s a big statement to make. But I’ve never known anything with more certainty. They’ve already begun to change the world, and at 15, 16, 17 years of age they will continue to bring light, energy, and beauty into our world for many, many years to come. This post can only capture a tenth of a percent of the depth I wish to express, so I’ll just begin with this: They are our future (“we” being humans), and we are truly lucky, honored, and blessed to know them, and even more privileged to have them carrying out the mission of Ultimate Peace in their communities and around the world.
Campers love to laugh at their coach’s expense. (Well, at least mine do – I hope I’m not the only one.) One of the most important aspects of camp is the coach-camper connection. One of the ways to reach this connection is through language. I have found over my four years at camp that the effort to learn a word in a camper’s native language means a great deal more than the actual word ever will. Over the years I’ve learned a few words of Arabic, and I’ve had a few Hebrew words in my pocket since preschool. One of my favorite moments from camp came two years ago, when a couple Arabic-speakers tried to teach me to say “good morning.” I tried, and tried, and tried, and though I got the general words down and still remember it today, the pronunciation was simply beyond my physical capabilities. There was one sound in that word that I (and almost all non-native Arabic-speakers) just can’t make. My campers laughed and laughed, telling me I sounded like a little kid. But their smiles reached much further depths than laughing at the English-speaker; they reached the part of every human spirit that longs for acceptance, validation, and connection. My attempt to pronounce this phrase allowed me to tell them “good morning” when I saw them at breakfast, but it also allowed us to reach a deeper understanding and higher level of trust. In learning just a simple (well, what they thought of as simple) phrase, I was able to reach out, saying that I accepted their language and culture, that their culture mattered to me, and that I wanted to give a piece of myself to them. It told them I was in. All the way. In this simple situation, I built one half of a bridge and called to them to create the other.
I saw Hanan, one of these girls (now a CIT) the other morning and gave her the “sebahalcher” greeting she had taught me two years previously. It never fails to make her smile, and I can never keep one off my own face, either. This is a girl who, today, at our introductions to the incoming staff for summer camp, told the group that she comes back to Ultimate Peace “because it is the best thing in my life.” This was followed by a friend of hers, also a CIT, who said that she comes because Ultimate Peace Camp is her second home. I was sitting next to Hanan, and as always, my eyes immediately began to fill up upon hearing their words. When her friend Areen spoke, about UP being her second home, there was no hope – my eyes overflowed and I laughed, out of happiness and because, as I said to Hanan while gesturing to my eyes, “this is what happens every time you guys talk. Every time!”
She laughed, entertained (maybe I should start noticing a theme here?), and said, “You’re so sensitive!” My brilliant friend, I thought, you are missing something. Hanan believes that she has been on the receiving end of what Ultimate Peace has created and built. And she has. But what she doesn’t realize is how much she has given. As a CIT she gives back to the program by helping younger, less experienced campers and by living and teaching Spirit at home. But she has given more than that, from day one. She has given herself to us. She built the other half of that bridge. Without her, without the incredible young leaders that we get to work with here at camp and year round, we would never have gotten to where we are today.
These young women with whom I have been lucky enough to become close have changed my life in ways I couldn’t have fathomed before I began my time with UP. In ways that I still can’t fully wrap my head around As our director David, said earlier today, “UP has changed me, and I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to.” Or something like that. What Hanan and others like her have given me goes beyond the power of anything I could ever say. I believe in the strength of words, but here I am simply powerless.
The first summer, two girls – Areen and her friend Yasmeen – wrote a poem, in English, for the camp talent show. It was about how with UP, we are on the way to making “the world a better place.” They said we were a camp of love, and it was “all about us the new generation, / Where love, brotherhood, and peace will be our negotiation.” I don’t know if there was a dry-eyed staff member in the room at that moment, as they finished. Yasmeen and Areen had thanked us, the staff, in the poem, for what we had given them. We’ve put a lot of hard work into camp over the years, but we gain at least as much as we give from people like Yasmeen, Areen, Hanan, our other friends Raz, Asmaa, and Rotem to name just a few. I can’t speak for the masses, but what these young leaders have led me through, without knowing they were doing anything, is something more than I can ever, ever do justice to with words or any other method of expression.
What they have given me is a second chance – a second chance to become the person I want to be. It is difficult to step out of the groove in which we often find ourselves, built by elementary, middle, and high school, built by friends and acquaintances, and in my case – myself. They – Areen, Yasmeen, Hanan, and so many more have helped me to see, by their mere presence, that I can become the person I have always wanted to be: someone who steps up, someone who reaches out with a bit of herself to build a bridge to connect with others, who can overcome a comfort zone, and most importantly, who can make a difference in the lives of others.
I wear a bracelet on my right wrist. It has three parts, connecting at the clasp. In the middle is a peace sign, and there are colored strings wrapped around each strand. It’s small, it’s simple, and it has been on my wrist for exactly two years. Yasmeen gave this to me two summers ago and it has been on my right wrist ever since. I feel naked without it; this bracelet has become a part of me because of what it symbolizes. It’s a little worse for the wear, but it remains a part of me, strong as ever. Every time I look at my right wrist, or fidget with the bracelet, I am reminded that I made a difference. If I hadn’t, that wrist would be naked. So I play with it, I fidget with it, and I show it off to anyone and everyone who will listen. Because it means that I get to tell people about Yasmeen and about Ultimate Peace. It means I get to remember that I can make a difference. It means I get to remember that I have made a difference. I can think about myself in the same way that my brilliant, brilliant friend Yasmeen put it two years ago: “I have a vision about myself. I was starting to think that the whole world is going to know me as a peace fighter…And the whole idea started in my mind when I started in Ultimate Peace.”
Thank you. Thank you more than words could ever possibly express. We love you.