Many thanks and a big “How! How!” to “Swampy” Alex Lowitt (’06-’13) for originating the idea of sharing alumni Vespers’ contributions through the Agablog, a concept for which “Swampy” coined the term eVespers. “Swampy” has also penned (I use that term loosely because it is very likely that a pen was not used in the creation of this electronic post) the inaugural eVespers.
Vespers is an all camp gathering that is held every Sunday morning during the summer in Governor Hall. Vespers is intended to be a time for the camp community to reflect and is a non denominational service during which the Agawam community sings, listens to readings, contemplates the weekly talk and reflects. Each week a counselor is chosen by the Director to give an inspirational talk to the entire camp and any visitors that choose to attend. It is often beneficial for cabin counselors to discuss this talk with their campers as the cabin gets ready for bed on Sunday night.
Camp Agawam inaugural eVespers by “Swampy” Alex Lowitt
Good morning, everyone!
Regardless of the time you’re reading this, I hope in your head you’re imagining yourself responding, “good morning, Swampy!”
That simple mental exchange we all just had, even though it didn’t actually occur, warps me – and hopefully all of you – back into Governor Hall. If I close my eyes, I’m once again surrounded by the beautiful, bright wooden walls, smelling the fresh air mixed with the scent of pine in a way only Maine can provide. If we look to our left and right, we see friends, best friends, future friends, cabin mates, cabin counselors, and most importantly, we collectively see the Agawam community.
Now when I open my eyes, when I look to my left and right, all I see is coffee and textbooks. But while I may not be wearing a camp uniform, while I may not be wondering what the plan is for optionals this coming afternoon, and while I may not be a quick jog away from the waterfront (where I would ALWAYS remember to peg in and out of), the magic of camp hasn’t left me.
With that said, however, I’m still not there. But I think I’ve found a way during the offseason to help us continue the importance of Agawam and all it teaches through what I’ve coined as “e-Vespers,” an open invitation to all counselors, past and present, to address the community of Agawam through an online medium. Now while the notion of using technology to attempt to replicate Vespers may seem a bit counterintuitive to our camp’s philosophy, my vision is that we can use realistic offseason channels of communication such as Camp Agawam’s great social media pages to spread our messages and reflections on life as we normally would every special Sunday morning at camp. Parents could read these emotional insights to campers who are too young to have social media access, and beyond that any e-Vespers would be available for campers, counselors, alumni, or alumnae to read and reflect upon whenever they find the time.
While this may be the only e-Vespers, I hope it becomes the first of many. But now, with that introduction out of the way, what I’d like to talk to you all about today concerns courage, bravery and how we can achieve both in daily life.
The purpose of our Woodcraft Laws is to provide us with a set of morals and values. They are a behavioral guide to help show us how to properly live. The Laws help us, as the Agawam poem we all hold dearly explains, to ‘be the best we can be.’
Some Woodcraft Laws offer us straightforward language and also outline a clear way by which we can follow them in everyday life. Take, for instance, the Law from the Lamp of Love: “Be kind. Do at least one act of unbargaining service each day.” You think to yourself, ‘okay, easy enough’ – From our experiences with friends and strangers alike, it makes sense why being kind is an important value and why we must strive to embrace such a mentality. Even better, the Law offers us a concrete way in which we can follow it, that being by doing a minimum of one selfless act a day. From picking up litter to offering to help carry groceries for an elderly person, this particular Woodcraft Law applies easily to our daily actions both in Agawam and outside of it during the offseason.
Other Woodcraft Laws, however, have a more complicated meaning, and some have a more complicated conceptual application to our daily lives. Because of this, to help ensure we understand Agawam’s most important values, we should take time and reflect on some of the harder concepts present within our beloved Woodcraft Laws.
As stated before, the difficult concept I wish to discuss with you is bravery. The Law from the Lamp of Fortitude: “Be Brave. Courage is the noblest of all attainments” was a Law that, at least to me when I was a camper, was one I’d gloss over. I’d read it and hear it during Council, but it was a Law that would admittedly go in one ear and out the other. This wasn’t due to a lack of care on my part, it was simply because, just as with the Law from the Lamp of Love, I’d think, “okay, be brave – easy enough.”
But this particular Law isn’t that simple.
First of all, the Law’s language has a strange and wordy conclusion. The Law ends by saying that being courageous is the “noblest of all attainments.” What does that mean? By glancing over the Law, most campers can comprehend that the Law is basically saying that being brave is important. Perhaps, for the sake of understanding the gist of the Law, that interpretation is adequate. But upon inspection, what the language is actually saying is that courage is the most important moral characteristic we can achieve. That’s pretty strong language when you consider the implications.
A second reason that this particular Woodcraft Law offered little to my younger mind was because being “brave” and being “courageous” weren’t words that I thought applied to me or my life. Back then, and still even now, when I think of courage and bravery in the abstract, I think of epic adventures, I think of good battling evil, and I always think of knights fighting dragons.
Further, the magnitude of these adventures and the actions of these masculine heroes are hard to replicate in our own lives in the modern world. There are no dragons in real life. I wield no sword, I wear no suit of armor, and there is no great evil for me to slay to save the kingdom.
So we are faced with a dilemma. If being courageous and being brave are such important moral attainments, but we aren’t knights in shining armor, how are we supposed to follow this Woodcraft Law and be brave? My life doesn’t involve saving damsels in distress, so does that mean I’m in effect breaking a Woodcraft Law by not actively ‘being brave’?
The answer to that question is no, neither you nor me, by simply going through the everyday motions of offseason life force us to break this Woodcraft Law. And the reasoning behind this is incredibly important.
Remember when I said dragons don’t exist in today’s world?
They exist, they are prevalent, and we combat them everyday. Now I’m sorry to disappoint all of the lower campus kids hearing this, but I’m not talking about awesome fire-breathing dragons in the literal sense, because those still aren’t out there (trust me, I’m probably more disappointed than you are). The dragons I’m talking about exist on a metaphorical and personal level. They take many forms and come in many sizes, some which can seem invincibly large.
Life is a beautiful thing, and life at Agawam is magical and a treasure. But there are hard and unique realities which face each of us, and there are many things which make us scared. And it is through this acknowledgement of our fears and our ability to confront our adversities which allow us to be brave.
Did you know it took me sixteen years of my life to be comfortable enough to open my eyes underwater? It may sound silly to some, but that was something I was afraid to do for a long time, and I remember feeling accomplished. That was a dragon I fought and defeated.
But while all of us have accomplishments we can point to and adversities we’ve overcome, we all have hard, private things we struggle with and fear, and that’s okay. Whether it’s the dark, being homesick, or dealing with a difficult illness, there are some problems that may personally seem unbeatable. But that brings me back to my earlier question of whether being ordinary essentially disables us from being brave. The simple answer is that living and being brave are one in the same.
To be human is to be brave. When you wake up and know it’s the first day of classes at your new school, you are just as brave as any dragon slayer I’ve heard of. When you don’t know how to swim but have swimming for cabin assigned, by stepping into Crescent Lake you draw your sword and look your dragon in the eye.
You have a political opinion? That’s brave. You asked that special someone to a dance? That’s brave. And it isn’t even the act itself that makes you brave or not, it’s the internal point at which you confront your fears, no matter how big or small they may be. And you know what the best part is? You don’t need to fight your dragons alone. You cannot fight a dragon if you run away from it. So close your eyes, and open them with me once again in Governor Hall. Look to your left and right. These are your comrades. Think about who’s behind you, both in Agawam and at home. Your parents, your family, and your friends are more than ready to suit up and stand with you – as long as you ask for their help.
So the next time you’re reading this particular Woodcraft Law, remember that bravery isn’t reserved for the fairy tale heroes of old, and remember that bravery isn’t necessarily storming a battlefield, taming a saber tooth tiger or skydiving from 13,000 feet. Remember instead that bravery and courage are inside you and thrive with each heartbeat. Remember that while there may be some dragons that always seem to fly away or can only be weakened, when you step out of bed each day you put on your own suit of armor, and when you walk out of your front door you are taking life by the horns and adhering to the Woodcraft Law of being brave. And most importantly, remember that acts of bravery come in shapes large and small, and whatever the problem is, you are never alone in the fight.
“Swampy” Alex Lowitt