Final Departure

By Jessica Simon

I grew up attending the same summer camp in California year after year and said goodbye to friends at the end of each summer. This was before the advent of social media, so our goodbyes actually meant something. While I saw some of my friends who returned to camp annually, others never returned.

Since coming to Camp Bighorn in Plains, Mont., as the media manager in April 2013, I see that much has changed. Social media is now not just a “thing”; it’s almost essential to keeping in touch with friends and family, even with co-workers.  I now realize the infusion of social media and the power of the goodbye are among the best gifts I received from my time here. I’m preparing to move on—not because working at camp is bad or unhealthy. I am just ready for new and different life-experiences and feel well-prepared for this transition, mostly because of what I have learned over the last two years.

A Girl With Goals
I came to Bighorn hoping to gain new skills in media development—photography, videography, editing, and graphic design. I think I have grown as a professional designer in all of these disciplines. For someone who is self-taught, I’m proud of the progress I’ve experienced. I also was able to heal emotionally and socially from many wounds I brought with me. I’ve learned so much about myself and others—and about God—that has empowered me to passionately pursue healthy relationships with my family and friends. I’ve found my voice.

As amazing as each of these gifts is, the gift I am most thankful for is how to say goodbye.

Camp life and its relationships are transient. People come. People go. Some stay longer than others, but at some point in the life of a camp worker, hard goodbyes happen and those you thought would never leave do. Growing up in the “real world” of suburbia, where people had steady jobs, monthly house payments, and stable lives, learning how to say goodbye was not something I really had to do. Even at my childhood camp, there was some stability in seeing the same people every summer and likely at smaller events throughout the year. But coming on staff at camp turned all of that upside down, and I had to learn—quickly—how to be OK with saying goodbye to people in general, but more specifically to some of my closest girlfriends.

Farewell To Friends
Kate and Hannah were part of our college partnership program that ended in the spring of 2015. They spent summers with me and then two months of each semester in the fall and winter. Each time they left, I mourned. I felt like I had no friends, no place socially. When Kate left the program after the winter semester of 2014, I mourned hard. It was painful. I missed the day-to-day with her and the fun we had. Even in the tearful moments of our lives, we managed to laugh and encourage one another. We had “practiced” life apart while she was still in the program but not at camp. We texted regularly and Skyped often. Since then, I’ve driven cross-country with her and spent Christmas with her family in Wisconsin. It was a departure from the day-to-day, but it wasn’t goodbye forever. She continues to be a great source of encouragement and wisdom in my life, walking with me through the transition from camp life and giving me sound advice and a valued perspective.

When it came time for Hannah to leave, I took what I’d learned from Kate’s departure to heart, hoping it would be easier to say goodbye. It wasn’t. It still hurt deeply, and tears were shed as my heart broke at the thought of all the things we would no longer experience together. But what softened the hurt—eased the sharp pain into a dull ache—was the knowledge that I had learned how to have long-distance friendships. Social media made it easy, and the connection we already had made it desirable to work at it. If Kate and I went on a road trip and shared a holiday, Hannah and I would certainly be able to find our own ways to stay connected and share life. And we have. We’ve shared moments over Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime, and texting that have allowed each of us to continue to grow in sisterhood as well as to share the same valuable insights and wisdom with one another.

I still miss the everyday experiences Kate and Hannah and I shared. Those were special times. But that’s just it: They were times—seasons—meant only to be seasons. The goodbyes were always going to be part of our relationship. While there is a part of me that wishes those priceless moments could have turned into the grand reality of our lives, I’m thankful that the goodbyes were always part of the plan because now I don’t have to fear the future. The strength of relationships is tested by time and distance—the two factors that now define long-distance relationships with Kate and Hannah.

What A Beautiful Mess
Working at camp isn’t easy. You live and work with people who challenge you and push your buttons. There are moments when you want to throw your hands up and walk away. And there are some moments when you do. But you come back because those same people help you grow and love you deeply, more deeply, in fact, than most people in the “normal” and “real” world. Working at camp is unlike any other job you will ever have. The camp culture and community blur all the lines between co-workers, friends, roommates, and family until you have—at times—a mess. But it’s in the mess that you learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Actually, it’s not really a mess at all but a beautiful painting of love, challenge, growth, adventure, and passion. It’s where you learn to say goodbye. And it’s where you learn that goodbye doesn’t have to be forever.

Goodbye might not be the routine of cupcake dates, hot mugs of tea, quilting projects, and hikes together. It might be FaceTime conversations and Skype dates with tea across a country, rather than a table. And because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad. And because it’s not what you wanted doesn’t mean it isn’t just as powerful and heartfelt.

Jessica Simon is the media manager for Camp Bighorn in Plains, Mont. Reach her at jessicas@campbighorn.com.