I always dream about vacations. I long to let it all go and get away from my worries. I dream of beaches and mountains and foreign lands. And I dream of doing very little once I get there. And yet, last month, I went on the best vacation you can imagine. It wasn’t in some far away place. There were no waiters serving me pina coladas on the hour. And I worked really hard from early in the morning through late at night. That was my week, in the hills north of Pittsburgh. Directing a summer camp for kids with CMT. The very disability I have. Camp Footprint.
There is a magic that occurs when many irregular folks are in the same place. Suddenly, irregularity becomes normalcy. Now I have never put much stock in being normal. I’m not, and all the people I love the most are certainly not either. But the campers that come to Footprint are usually the only one in their friend group and school with CMT. Sometimes, they are the only one in their family to have it as well. They are always the one that gets stared at. Or made fun of. They must carry the burden of being different every funky step they take. Then they come to camp, and are suddenly surrounded by 79 other campers with CMT, many counselors with CMT and other healthy amazing-hearted counselors who are excited to learn about CMT, and a Camp Director with CMT. It is the first time in their lives that they aren’t the odd one out. They have arrived amidst their own. A tribe who understands their greatest challenges without the need for a word to be spoken. Everyone is walking funky. Everyone is struggling to use their fingers well, everyone runs the risk of tripping semi-constantly. It is the first taste they get of fitting in. And it is the first time the vast majority of them get a chance to be themselves. Letting down the guard of judgement and fear and just relaxing into who they really are.
It is a magical transformation and creates an energy of living life to the fullest. This is an infectious energy. Contagious to all around them. And before you know it, a utopia is formed. An ideal plane where people are being real with each other. The facade of daily life evaporates, and you get a taste of how joyous life can be when all involved are being authentic. This is the GIFT of disability. It creates a realness that is easy to lose when you have little that challenges you. The campers here have a sense of maturity not always possessed by the average kid.
Kids climbed a wall, and ziplined across a field, and shot arrows, and swam, and ate, and laughed, and talked, and smiled until cheeks were sore. It is a week that drains my energy and introduces me to my many reserve tanks. A week that erases the fake-ness found in our politics, culture, and electronics. A week that shows so clearly that we were meant to live in tribes. Interdependent. Reliant on one another. A week where you are forced to deal with people. Not escape them. You have to work it out when you live in a village and a problem arises. No couches, no phones or TV’s, no cars. Just good people, nature, and the human condition. Not a bad triad to fill your time with.
This is the third summer of this camp. It continues to grow and flourish. It always makes me laugh when, after camp is over, I get thank you calls and emails from parents and campers thanking me for my efforts. Makes me laugh because I get equally as much out of it as the campers do. I should be thanking them! For the joy that surrounds me throughout the week. For the spirit I take back to my usual life. For the much needed reminder of what matters and what simply does not. For helping me to constantly improve on the human being that I am trying to be. I do what I love for my work. I am surrounded by the best of the best. I am blessed beyond any ability to speak in words. I am part of the Tribe of the Funky Feet. And as a result, I get a dream vacation every single summer. Now I ask you, Can You Dig It?