In 2014, five members of the Ultimate Peace Friendship Tour came to Chicago. I came home from school for the week to help with fundraisers, events, and to show them around. Two members of the group stayed at my house – then second year LITs. I won’t embarrass them too much, but I will say this: They were young, sweet, and a little (maybe more) nervous.
We flash forward to this week, when both of them came to visit camp as confident two-year graduates from far different places in their lives than when they visited Chicago on their Friendship Tour. Both, while grown up quite a bit, are wise, kind young adults who bring the same smiles and excited energy as they did as campers and LITs. Both of them have impacted my life in the most beautiful of ways, and seeing them back here at camp, if only for a couple days, reminds me (as if I needed a reminder!) of why we do what we do here with Ultimate Peace.
I come here every year with my mom. Yesterday, one of my campers told me, unsolicited, that it was so nice that I was here with my family and that she felt she belonged, that she felt a part of our family. What she didn’t know was that her cousin, one of those boys who stayed at my home in Chicago three years ago, calls me his sister. He calls my mom his American mother, and he knows (both those boys do) that they can forever call our family theirs, and our house home. When my camper told me yesterday that she felt a part of my family, she couldn’t have been more right. Her cousin is my Middle Eastern brother, and I am his American sister. I told her that she was exactly right – she shouldn’t just feel part of the family; she belongs.
At camp, everyone comes in from separate communities around the region and the world, and then we split off into newly formed families. We throw a disc, we break bread, and we share stories. We let go of the edges of ourselves and we bleed into one another, taking in new stories, experiences, and identities. One person becomes part of my family, and then his family members follow, and we continue until we are all connected. The connections grow and grow, and eventually we find family even where we never expected it. This thing we do here with Ultimate Peace – we create family even in the most unlikely of places. And whether we know it or not – like my camper – we find that we belong.