Friday, June 20, 2013, 6:34 p.m., at the dining room table in the Ark. In my head Dandy Don Meredith is singing “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over” from Monday Night Football back in the old days. When the game was decided—generally before the clock ran out—Howard Cosell would clam up long enough for Meredith to serenade the outcome.
The party’s almost over at Camp Lutherlyn. The teaching’s finished, and in two hours we’ll have the final worship service of the week. Pastor Jeff will lead, and I’ll preach. May God preserve us! Tomorrow morning parents will pick up their kids, load trunks with sleeping bags and suitcases jammed with smelly, dusty shorts and t-shirts, and drive away. Some of our middle schoolers didn’t want to come in the first place. Most end up sad to leave. I know the scene already. They’ll exchange cell phone numbers, hug, and hassle parents for a gift shop hoodie or baseball cap. A few will cry. And a couple may even dread going home, where honor thy father and thy mother is a complicated commandment.
But before the teary goodbyes, before we really do turn out the lights, the counselors will take the kids straight from worship to campfire, and we pastors will have our last daily postmortem. Georges Duboeuf will provide beaujolais nouveau, which Pastor Bill tells me is a touch sweeter than pinot noir. If I’m not mistaken, a Riesling is also hiding in the refrigerator. Sweetness will be the theme tonight, as Pastor Kim picked up a pack of Oreos as well as vanilla ice cream, Hershey syrup, and hot fudge; meanwhile, Pastor Bill grabbed peanut butter and mint Oreos. After this week, our pancreases and livers should be due for a breather. The only sugar missing this week is those big, orange, marshmallow peanuts, which Pastor Brian constantly tossed into his mouth in years past.
Every year at Lutherlyn has a different feel for me. Despite the nerves or adrenal fatigue or hypochondria going on or not really going on inside me, the week has actually been peaceful. No serious fights among the kids, no drama-trauma that I could detect. Yesterday I had to drive to Erie for a pastoral emergency and, ironically, had the most beautiful experience of these Camp Lutherlyn days. I stopped by the church to take care of a few things as long as I was in town, and parishioner Julie showed up with daughter Lena. Julie shared with me the story of her ninety-year-old grandmother wandering away from her nursing home. With a walker and determination, she shuffled ¾ of a mile before the staff caught up with her. The poor woman has dementia and delirium, the latter possibly from a stroke.
After a couple tense days between hospital and nursing home, Grandma got situated once again. I headed off for that emergency, thinking of the hell people with dementia and Alzheimer’s stumble around in. Of course, I thought of my dad and his few years of misery, knowing his brain had betrayed him. Julie and Lena went to check on Grandma. The beauty of camp week came to me hours later in the form of a text message and photograph from Julie. The words: “Snuggling up to watch Curious George may be the best medicine.” The photograph:
I wonder how many tormented minds could be brought to peace if only they could sit propped up in bed with a couple kids and watch a cartoon about the adventures of a mischievous monkey. The world’s agony and absurdity can’t overcome the grace of a child’s fine hair against your cheek. Look at Lena, Cora, and Zoe’s great-grandma smile. In that moment she seemed to have the delirious world figured out. Maybe she had. I’m going to keep that picture handy for when despair hits.
Signing off now from the Ark. Tomorrow I’ll bring back home in my spirit the silly hearts of the teenagers I taught, the evenings laughing with fellow pastors, that emergency one lovely family will be mired in for years to come, and the smile of an elderly woman whose confusion cleared for a minute when great-grandchildren leaned into her, saying nothing, just watching a monkey get into trouble.