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White Butterflies. (A Place to Share).

After sixteen years as an overnight camp director, I, like the mayor of a small town, manage power outages, as well as homesickness. However, with all my experience, I was not prepared for the challenge of the summer of 2000.

My mother had been diagnosed with cancer the previous November. As the summer approached, ordering art supplies, scheduling busses for trips, or consulting with the kitchen director while my mother was dying became surreal. Four days after I arrived at camp, my father called and asked me to come home to help with home hospice. I reviewed schedules for orientation with my senior staff, decided what to tell the 200 arriving staff members, and tried to transfer needed wisdom to each senior staff member through the sheer power of a hug.

My mother believed that people reappeared after death as white butterflies. To her, the butterflies symbolized the values she cherished - revel in nature, be an individual, and value the ability to change yourself. Mom accomplished her final goals. She had private moments blessing her children and grandchildren, clearing her dresser, assigning jewelry to friends, and re-reading fifty years of love poems from my father. Then the oxygen machine arrived, the pain medications increased, and my mother slipped out of this world and into the next.

As my mother's body was being transferred to the funeral home, my father told my brother and me to look out the window. A beautiful white butterfly danced near the windowsill. She was still with us.

During the week of mourning we had to make decisions. My brother was going back to work. I had to go back to camp but could not imagine leaving my father who had stopped working to care for Mom. One thought kept occurring to me. Take Dad to camp. "Why not?" he said in a bittersweet voice "I'm a free agent now."

Seventy-five-year-old Izzy packed swim trunks, sneakers, shorts - and his black mourning ribbon and heart medication - and headed off to camp. When friends asked, "What will you do?" Izzy replied, "Be the hammock tester." They smiled, knowing that Dad would not just lie around all day.

Izzy was transformed by camp during the weeks he spent at Ramah in the Poconos, a jewish educational camp where routine activities are in Hebrew and campers experience a nurturing Jewish environment. New campers can be overwhelmed, and Izzy was no exception. He was confused during announcements, couldn't read the camp song, and went to Bet Am Gadol building instead of the Bet Am Katan. Izzy hadn't prayed on a daily basis since his Bar Mitzvah. But he succeeded and flourished because of gentle guidance from campers and staff.

Because there were no hammocks to be tested, Izzy helped in the kitchen, packing meals for trips and snacks for bunk activities. He befriended many of the non-Jewish kitchen workers helping them understand Judaism. As often happens, the student became the teacher. In the afternoons, he worked in the mailroom, and because of his business background he improved our antiquated mail-distribution system.

I regularly checked in with my father, because I didn't want him to feel obilgated to stay all season. After all, this was my job. But he reassured me, saying, "Look at the exceptional experiences we're having. Everyone here is wonderful. I thought the kids wouldn't include me because of my age, but age doesn't matter. Camp is a great equalizer.

Since then, we laugh at the same youhad-to-be-there camp references and share letters from our camp friends. Izzy, the model camper, put the values of camp into practice. He joined a synagogue, volunteers at a food pantry, and prays every morning.

One day last August my father and I were walking down the road. I asked if he was comfortable staying until the end of camp. He said, "You can stop worrying. I understand the vibrancy that pulls you back to camp every summer." And a beautiful white butterfly accompanied us the rest of the way up the road.

Cheryl R. Magen is the director of Ramah in the Poconos, a conservative Jewish camp In Lake Como, Pennsylvania.
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Article Details
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Author:Magen, Cheryl R.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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