I’m still stunned that this summer I won’t be at camp – not at Circle of Tapawingo, not at Circle of EKC. No campfires, no flag raising, no swims across the lake, and, most poignant of all, no campers. For the past 17 summers, no make that 17 years, I have been driven by the Circle campers. Girls of all ages, all backgrounds, all areas of the country, all connected to the Circle community and to each other due to the death of a parent.
I’ve watched nine year-old grieving girls gain strength as they went through the ten years of the Circle program and became counselors.
I’ve laughed and cried at campers’ achievements – some tiny steps like performing in our Circle of the Stars Talent Show, others giant steps as non swimmers acquired the skills to swim across the lake and back…wow! And I’ve grown as the campers taught me about love and loss and resilience and courage.
It was my choice not to return to camp. It was both the most difficult and the easiest decision I’ve ever made. Not being at camp, just thinking about not being there fills me with loss. I love everything about the weeks at Circle, and you have to be a camper at heart to understand that the heat and bugs and wet clothing and sun burn and wind burn and weak coffee are part of the experience. I treasured walking up from the lake with campers 60 years younger than I. Early morning walks with counselors still in college or struggling with their first jobs kept me in a world that I had long left behind. Those are just a few of the reasons why leaving was so, so difficult.
What made my leaving easy was knowing that a new generation is poised, primed and asking to assume leadership roles at Circle. They speak the same language as the campers. They relate on a deeply different level than I. They are with it; they are current on things that are so important to young girls; I am not. In my own mind, I was hanging on too long. Circle Camps was my baby; now it’s the child of many. I’ve taken myself out of the thick of things. My reward will be to watch and laugh and cry as Circle moves on…
Circle has defined me for almost two decades. Long before I officially retired at camp last summer, I was anxious about who I would be without Circle. And then I thought about our campers and how their losses dwarf mine and how they create their paths around their losses. And, it was a light bulb moment for me. I wasn’t leaving, I was simply creating a new path. I can still be there for our campers. I can still support Circle, just in different ways.
So…even though I won’t be roasting marshmallows around a Circle campfire, I will be getting back on a bike, in the middle of August, to ride 720 miles to raise awareness and money for Circle Camps. I’ll start at Circle of EKC, cross Pennsylvania, and ride through New York, into Vermont, over to New Hampshire and 16 days later arrive in Maine at Circle of Tapawingo. Yes, I’m stunned that I won’t be at camp, but just as our campers create new paths, so will I. With every mile, I will honor the hundreds of young girls who over the past 17 years have made me the person I am today.
Sandi Lando Welch
Sandi Lando Welch
Founder, Executive Director, Sore Legs.