I recently watched the film “Not Another Second,” an accompanying feature to an exhibit at The Watermark in Brooklyn Heights. Within both the short film and the exhibit, LGBTQ+ seniors share their stories of self-discovery, self-expression, and self-reliance. The film is incredibly touching. It is also harrowing for any of us who have lived in the shadows of societal misunderstanding, bias, or shame. The title references a phrase of determination in opposition to oppression. It is something we have all said, at one time or another, in one way or another, as we leap into self-actualization.
Immediately while watching these stories, my mind wandered to camp. Admittedly, it is not often that my mind doesn’t wander to camp, but the connection felt strong in this particular instance. I thought of the campers and staff members I have known for the past 13 years and the new campers I am so excited to get to know this summer. I remembered the many times a camper asked to be addressed by a new nickname or a new name. I remembered the numerous occasions when a camper took the stage alone during the camper showcase and read aloud from their poetry journal or sang a song they had written.
At camp, the journey through auditions, electives, rehearsals, evening activities, and show day performances is only three weeks. But the path our campers take goes far beyond the seeable skills and accomplishments. The journey through a session and, we always hope, the many years at camp is the very same journey we hear about in “Not Another Second.” Campers at Ghostlight have the opportunity to express themselves radically and to hear supportive voices that are curious and open to this expression. Expectations of “the way things have been” or “the way things should be” are easily set aside at Ghostlight. We have no tests to teach to, no rubric to fulfill. Our only focus is to create a program, space, and community where radical self-discovery and self-expression are the norms.
I use the word radical quite often when speaking of camp. It’s a word that I incorporated into my vocabulary later in life than my teenage years, but I wish that I had been introduced to it much earlier than I was. It sounds exciting, somewhat dangerous even. It quite often expresses the crossing over from everyday practices to those which are all-consuming. But, this definition or understanding, while appropriate, is not quite the most exact or precise.
The word itself comes from the world of botany and means “of, relating to, or proceeding from a root.” The root, the deepest, most wide-spreading part of a plant, is often so hidden, so buried, so entrenched in the ground that it goes unseen in passing. To make itself visible, the heart of the plant, the root, gathers resources and nourishment to break through the ground and produce the flower or blossom that the rest of the world sees. Without nourishment, the blossom never comes to be, and, in time, the plant is forgotten.
At camp, we believe in speaking of radical values, core principles that resonate and emanate from the heart of each camper and our community as a whole. When we gather for an evening activity, every camper has the opportunity to share their most authentic selves. It might seem to be merely a costume, a poem, or a dance, but we know that it comes from their deepest, most radical hearts. And when we applaud the winner of the game, the end of the song, or the height of the dance, we are applauding more than talent or effort. We are celebrating that camper, that whole camper, and encouraging them to continue to share themself with the world. We hope that, in some small way, we are taking away their need to have a moment later in life in which they utter, “not another second,” and providing them, and all of us, the opportunity to shine right now.