Let’s talk about how life can change, and how one person’s actions can affect many.
I have a dear friend from college whose marriage ended right about the time she was fifty. She had four kids, a beautiful home, and a great job she loved, heading up the English department at a private high school. Here was a time when any psychiatrist would tell you not to make any big changes, but she did the opposite: moved to a nearby town and got a new career.
The new career actually came as a bit of a surprise. One day, perusing the newsletter from the summer camp she so loved as a child, my pal discovered they were looking for a new camp director. She found herself applying for the job, and she got it. So she went back to camp. In doing this, she managed to do something most of us only dream of – recapture and relive great memories. The first summer she was there, her three daughters went with her, either as campers or counselors.
One of the traditions there is that the camp director gives a talk at a nondenominational chapel service every Sunday morning. Recently, my friend sent me this e-mail: her first “sermon” of the season. I was thrilled, because in talking about One Good Deed – the idea, not the book! – she was doing just what I hope One Good Deed (the book) will do: inspire people to do a little bit better. In this case, the message goes out to young women, and it is beautifully conveyed. Read it, won’t you? And thank you, old friend.
Now as a new summer begins…. Rather than looking at the past and at what [our camp] has been, we will look to the future at what we can become. We will find ways to do what we have always done, but do it better. While we are proud of how we have influenced girls over the past 100 years, it is time to consider how we can help girls over the next century. The second century is an unwritten history and with this blank page in front of us, it is time to start writing.
I have a good friend named Erin who is publishing a book this fall called One Good Deed. The subtitle is: 365 days of Trying to be Just a Little Bit Better. A year ago, she described the idea behind her book as follows:
“I wanted to write a book that affects me every day I work on it – not just the business of getting the words down on paper, but in the way I live through the process of writing it. I want it to be a bit hard. I want it to change me. I’m starting a journey called One Good Deed. I will try to do a favor, take one detour, make a tiny difference in someone else’s life every single day for a year.”
And so she did – everyday she made sure that she did something that helped someone else. Sometimes it was small, like bringing coffee to her doorman. Sometimes she spent a whole day working on a community project. One day she gave out free books on the subway. On another she simply brought a smile to a woman by complimenting her on her obviously new sweater. She writes, “What will it feel like to do something good every day? Will I be scouring the streets for old ladies, trying to make them cross against their will like an overeager Boy Scout? Or will it become second nature and improve my attitude and already optimistic outlook on life? At the end of a week, a month, a year, will I feel different in any way?” And now that her year is up, she does feel different and her book will chronicle her growth over the year.
I would like our summer to be like Erin’s quest to do good deeds. I would like this blank page of our new history to be filled with examples of girls reaching out to others in even the simplest ways.
Here in chapel this summer, I will touch on many ideas that encourage you to be your best self….You have a blank page in front in front of you and how you write your history of the next seven weeks is up to you. Being [here at camp] is a gift that your parents gave you – they were willing to allow you the chance to grow and learn on your own and so I hope you will show your gratitude by making the most of your time here. Try new things even if it is your seventh summer, make new friends even if you love your old ones, maintain a positive attitude even if you are a little sad or doing something that is not your favorite activity and believe me, the next thing you know, you will be putting your patches in your trunk and wondering where the time went.
Good deeds begin here by making sure that everyone feels included. There are many new faces here this summer and we must all make sure that they feel welcome. An invitation into your cabin, a friendly hug, an explanation of one of our quirky traditions, an offer to share or be a partner all go such a long way in making others comfortable. Notice everyone, not just yourself. And if you notice someone looking confused or a little sad or nervous, it is an easy Good Deed to reach out and draw her in.
If each of us, campers, Aides and counselors sets a goal of “trying to be just a little better” everyday, then the camp continues to be a place where everyone has an awesome summer, where everyone fits in, where everyone feels she can take a risk and knows that she is safe in doing so.
To be a little better does not mean you have to add three miles to the length of the lake swim, or knock off a minute for the time paddles, or do a larger woodworking project, or become a professional ballet dancer. I know you try your hardest to be great sailors, or strong tennis players, or beautiful potters. Our standards will remain the same. But it does mean you have to be kinder, or more aware of the natural beauty around you, or more careful about the words you use and the way that you speak them. It certainly means that you put community ahead of yourself and I promise in doing so you will find such satisfaction that it will surprise you.
I hope you will take some time to think about some of the ways you can help. What will your good deeds be? How will you make a positive difference in someone else’s experience here? I plan to check in with you often this summer and see what you’re good deeds are. And your counselors and I will remind you when you are not upholding your end of the bargain – and what is that bargain again? To make our camp’s second century is even better than the first and to make the next seven weeks an exciting, wonderful adventure for us all.