Someone once told me that some relationships are just weird: ultimate and the people who play it for instance. Ultimate takes the health of our knees, our backs, and our bank accounts. But sometimes takes us halfway around the world to chase great adventures!
As I write this I am sharing the beautiful campus of Kfar Silver with an ultimate-crazed family over 100 strong about to be swarmed by close to 300 campers who are even more crazy about ultimate than we are, and it is good. Welcome to Camp Ultimate Peace 2016!
There has been so much information to process the last two days of staff training I have hardly had time to reflect and process all of it. There is culture and history to be learned, schedules to be memorized for each day of camp, activities to be planned from sunrise to sunset each day, protocol to be memorized, and relationships to be built. There is much to do and hardly enough energy to do it all!
Unfortunately, since landing in Tel Aviv, I have been fighting against the voices in my head that tell me that I am not good enough, that people do not like me, that I am unworthy of love and acceptance. They are born of being tired and afraid, a long way from home, and lonely. They are a cesspit and steal energy from the joyful task of preparing to welcome our campers! None of these lies has any foundation in the ideals of UP, nor any place at our camp!
Anyone familiar with UP knows our five values: fun, friendship, mutual respect, integrity, and non-violence. A value less apparent on our banners, but no less vital to the health of the mission, is unconditional acceptance. And, for as much integrity and non-violent passion as I have witnessed from the staff and administration, and for all the fun I have had and the many friends I have already made, nothing stands out more to me than the unconditional acceptance I have received from co-workers of all backgrounds since arriving.
But here, now, we are not from all of those different places and spaces on our passports. All the voices and the noises, the violence and the chaos, the chatter, clatter, and hubbub of our daily lives has been muted in the serenity of Kfar Silver. Here we are family. We belong. We belong because we are here. Because we showed up and opened ourselves up to others for the sake of peace.
To be here is to be accepted, to fit in, and belong because you have a family at UP. And that, friends, is a very weird and wonderful thing.
I decided today that I was going to spend time this week talking to campers, finding out some of their favorite camp moments to write about and to use as a springboard to discuss the larger themes emerging from those moments. It took me all of maybe two minutes of interacting with staff after coming to that decision to realize, why not staff too? Their experiences are important to highlight as well; they may be different than the campers’, but not only are they just as valuable, they amount to the same ends: Love, peace, friendship, and connections. I’ll be exploring this project much further as campers arrive and begin to experience Ultimate Peace, but I asked myself why wait?
What struck me most as I talked to staff members about the memorable moments they’ve encountered at camp (well, orientation) so far, I saw that my question about a memorable or meaningful moment caught them off-guard, but they always had an answer. When asked about a memorable or meaningful moment from the past two days – not a particularly long time – each one of them spoke thoughtfully and from the heart, and they became visibly more…I’m not sure exactly what. Each and every person seemed to light up as they reflected on a moment that meant something to them, as they remembered something someone had said that stuck with them. And I realized that just as important as the stories they were telling was the way they told them. One Middle Eastern LIT told me she was feeling anxious, even lonely, as some of her Ultimate Peace peers from her community weren’t able to come to camp this year. She told me that the first night, she found some of the other LITs – people she has learned, grown, and become close with – that she was feeling alone and she needed their support. Their response, even told second- (and now third-) hand, brought a smile up from my heart. She told me that they reassured her, with enthusiasm and empathy, that they had her back. That they were there for her. That they were in this together and she was a part of their family.
The words they told her were full of unconditional love, support, and acceptance. And just as beautiful as their words were, so was her retelling of the story. When she began, giving me the background, I could tell it was beginning to weigh heavy on her. But when she described what her peers – friends – family – had said, I could see a weight visibly lift off her shoulders. She smiled her glowing, beautiful grin and that told me even more than her words how much their support had meant to her. And every side – the asking, the giving, and the receiving of support is exactly what we hope to accomplish with Ultimate Peace, and, with proof, exactly what we are accomplishing.
I also talked with a returning staff member, a seasoned Ultimate player and father. He described his “moment” to me as one of both protectiveness and letting go. He had met an Ultimate player several years ago and talked with her about Ultimate Peace. They hadn’t talked much since, but she arrived at camp this year and he immediately felt a sense of protectiveness over her, because of the friendship they had formed several years ago, however brief it had been. He used the term, “paternal” to describe how he felt, which to me spoke to his kind nature as well as the nature of Ultimate Peace itself. We take in those who are new to coaching, the region, the game, other cultures, and everything in between. This staff is a protective one; we look out for each other and we protect each other. We work for each others’ successes and pick each other up when we need encouragement.
During an orientation session, some staff members were simulating a conversation we will have with our campers later on in the week. He told me that this particular staff member volunteered to be a part of the conversation, and from her first step onto the stage he knew she had found her place; he knew that she was comfortable and he trusted the other staff members enough to let go. That moment, taken into a bigger picture, speaks to the values that we as a staff stand for. The pride in his eyes as he reflected on her participation and on the staff’s open arms shone brilliantly.
I talked with a new staff member next, who hadn’t experienced camp or this particular region before. One moment that struck her was during a conversation about what the Middle Eastern members of our little oasis of peace face outside of this oasis. Earlier in the day, one Middle Eastern member of our staff talked about how his involvement put a strain on an important relationship in his life. Someone he is very close to is not supportive of his participation in Ultimate Peace, and that’s a reality he has to face every day. His honesty about it struck this new staff member, and made her think about what it would be like to be in his shoes: to be a part of something so meaningful to you, and have someone close to you question your involvement in it. Outsiders to the region, myself included, cannot understand what these campers and LITs go through in their daily lives if family members or friends are not supportive of Ultimate Peace or their commitment to it. That moment gave her, and us all, an insight into how important this organization is to the youth we work with, which gives us all a feeling of responsibility to them and respect for them. That moment helped us to see, concretely, how important this experience is, and how much love goes around to keep us working together, to keep us successful, to keep us moving forward.
What comes from these stories is not three separate instances; what comes from these stories is all part of the same narrative: one of support, trust, respect, connection, love – the list could go on. These moments may be vastly different in context, but the qualities they show all add into one unified mentality. And the passion and pride with which our staff members speak about these moments only adds to the purity of the qualities they themselves possess.
Camp Ultimate Peace 2016 is off and running, and we’ve got a heck of a group to lead it.
Returner Stu Downs reflects on the first day back at it, thinking about seeing faces both new and old, and embracing the love and commitment we share here at Ultimate Peace.
Celebration and reconnection. Reconnection – what does it mean? To an aging has-been like me, it’s a refreshment of energy instilled by the idealism and passion emanating from so many gifted and willing participants in the UP mission. That’s what it’s like for an administrator or a coach. For the Middle Eastern coaches and LITs, viewing the influx of optimism on day one reminds all of the many people who care about what is going on, and all who are appreciative of the daily efforts of those who give so much to the year round program. For the Middle Eastern LITs, this is confirmation of these travelers’ dedication to the cause and to the local young people who maintain their training regiment all year. For the American LITs, they witness the impressive network of talented, devoted, and loving Ultimate folks. They can see it in their bright eyes and warm embraces. It is contagious to new members, to shy teenagers. Suddenly you’re hugging a stranger you just met. You even allow this old fat bearded dude to wrap his paws around you. Where back home is this not creepy? You realize he and everyone here cannot help themselves; we are celebrating all we’ve done and all we are going to do, so you hug back. The warmth of each smile and the strength of each hug reminds every coach, every administrator, every young person – regardless of what adjectives describe us: Jew, Arab, Christian, none of the above, male, female, neither, young, old – it reminds us all of the mutual appreciation we share and the deep impact we’ve had on one another.
A disc goes up into the air, and nobody sees the end of its flight. Does it land?
I’ve recently been thinking about the relationship between trust and control. I like to think (perhaps those who know me will tell a different story) that I have a positive relationship with control. Sometimes it tries to take over me, but then I remember to trust: to give the benefit of the doubt, to assume the best of others in (or maybe after) a frustrated moment, and to ultimately believe that what is coming out of my own mind isn’t necessarily the absolute truth or the foolproof plan.
It is recently that I have made the conscious decision to work on trusting. I’m not exactly sure in whom or what I should put it, but I’ve decided nonetheless. I don’t mean school or work collaborative projects where some members pull more weight than others. I mean big picture, “put-yourself-out-there-and-blindly-hope-for-the-best.” Fear of disappointment doesn’t stop me in my tracks anymore. We all learn the hard way to say what we feel while we still have the chance, to take advantage of the time we have on this earth, to be brave and say the words we’re afraid to say. I’m not claiming to have perfected this idea. I’m claiming to be working on it: to choose trust rather than control. To control is to know. To trust is to wear your heart on your sleeve. To trust is to be willing to accept that it may end up far from perfectly but you refuse to let that possible ending deter you from taking a chance at an amazing one. I won’t lie; it’s backfired on me, left me with nothing but tears and a box of tape and glue with which to put myself back together. I won’t lie, it’s not always pretty. But the lightness, the happiness, that comes from accepting vulnerability and embracing the unknown is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.
Trust and control go hand-in-hand. There is gray area, certainly, and there is overlap, but the two often butt heads. To be in control is likely to be comfortable, while trust can be terrifying. I won’t bore you with my life story, but it’s been on my mind and now, here at Ultimate Peace, I wonder about it in a camp context. More specifically, our camp context. An Arab kid who has never met a Jew comes to Ultimate Peace willing to trust that she’ll be safe and happy even though she’s interacting with people she may have never understood or even met before. A Jewish kid comes to camp willing to trust that his Arab teammate will throw him the disc even though they don’t speak the same language, come from the same community, or have the same background.
For me, that’s what trust is about. For me, that’s what being willing to give up control is about. I’ve learned more than I could ever possibly express from these amazing teenagers we work with at camp. But perhaps the most meaningful impact they’ve had on me is their willingness to give up control and to trust. To realize that they might be on a team with people whose language they don’t speak, whose culture they don’t understand, whose history has clashed with their own. It strikes me every year what an incredibly brave thing they do simply by coming to camp, and each year I take it a little bit more to heart. Each year, I come home more determined to be vulnerable and to embrace the uncertainty of trust.
If I throw a disc from a mountaintop, and I can’t see anyone down below to catch it, is it doomed to lie in the valley forever? Or can I trust that someone, someday, will find it, will pick it up, will grow to love it as I had?
All I know is that camp is starting in a couple days. And that means new co-coaches, new LITs, and new campers – new people in whom to place my trust. But I’ve seen everyone working to set up this little oasis of peace, as we like to call it. And I can’t think of anyone I’d rather stand on that mountaintop with, together letting a disc fly.
#1 Rule: Love of the Game, and Everyone Who Plays it
At the risk of sounding cliché, my time with Ultimate Peace has been one of the most life changing, perspective shifting, community creating, and amazing experience of my life. I first contacted the UP fellow who has now been here for two years, told him about my camp counselor and Ultimate Frisbee playing background and we met up in Jerusalem before I started my semester at the University of Haifa. It took a while for me to finally get my schedule together enough to go to my first practice, but I finally did on a Thursday. I took a bus out to Yokeneam Illit where I was picked up by a full car of coaches I hadn’t met and we headed to Yesod HaMa’ala where we would coach two practices during the school day for the kids there. From Yesod we headed to Tuba-Zangariya where we had one larger practice after school for the kids in that community.
The communities are very different, other than the first is Jewish and the second is Arab, the personalities of the kids are very different as well. The next day I was paired with one of the coaches I met that Thursday to coach at a tournament that all the communities brought kids to. This coach who I was paired with has become one of my closest friend in UP, and is the first Arab friend that I have made. As time continued I became a regular coach at these Thursday practices, and added in Sundays at Tamra, and Mondays at Daburiyya. Tamra and Daburiyya are both Arab communities, and for the first time in my life I was spending extended periods of time in Arab communities. Meeting Arab people, playing with Arab kids, eating at Arab restaurants, this phenomenon in the life of this Jewish-Israeli quickly became normal. Not a week took place where I wasn’t itching to go back to each place that I coached at to hang out with the kids some more, learn some new Arabic and continue fostering the connections I was making.
Several months later the kids at every practice knew my name, and I tried to know as many of theirs as possible, but every practice started with high fives and hugs and ended much the same way. Not only do I feel like I really got to be a fun coach for all of the kids over the past few months but I also feel like I became friends with many of the older ones. In the end of the year tournament, I again was paired with my best friend to coach a team. At the tournament were almost all of the kids that I had been coaching since February and it was all smiles, and a little sadness by me because I know that I will not be coaching them next year since I will be back in the United States. The hardest part of the tournament for me was all of the kids asking me if I would be at camp this summer and me having to say no, and then their shock and wonder why I wouldn’t be there and their disappointment that this was the end of our journey together.
Ultimate Peace has made such an impact on my life that I do not intend to be done with it when I return to the United States. I have made it my goal to try and plan for the LIT tour to come to Baltimore next year, meaning that I will be working with the community to create a tournament for the LITs, find housing for them all, and plan an amazing week for them. If I am unsuccessful in that, I promised the LITs that I would come to wherever the tour does go to next year. The tournaments and practices are now over, and I have many pictures and new Facebook friends. Ultimate Peace will always hold a piece of my heart, and I will never forget any part of this experience. The icing on the cake this semester was that I was getting school credit for being a part of UP, and spending every day doing what I love with some of the most amazing people in the world.