Apr 12, 2009

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The Indelible Years


  One of the things I am enjoying about Facebook is the various phases of my life that I get to revisit, not just through the lens of my own experience but through the lens of those who I shared the time with.  My old neighborhood in Brooklyn, Sleepaway camp, the cross country teen tours I used to run, High school.   What I have come to realize is everyone has those indelible moments that stick with them forever.  There are events in my life that happened 20, 30, even 40 years ago that I am able to remember as vividly as if they were yesterday.  Yet I can’t recall what I had for dinner two days ago.

Why is that?  I think it has something to do with the emotional imprint that event left on me.  I very distinctly remember my first summer away at Camp Pakatakan in Andes, New York.  I was all of 11, it was 1968.  What resonates for me were my recollections of two older kids, waiters at the camp, Sandy Stock and Bobby Marcus.  They were rebels, always getting in trouble and pushing the edge of the envelope.  They actually got thrown out of camp.  Up until that point in time I had been a very good kid.  Polite, respectful, adventurous but always aiming to please and be the good boy. 

          There was something alluring about the swagger of these two 17 year olds.  They seemed to get all the attention from the girls and at 11 girls were just creeping into my RADAR.  From then on I had a shift, I became a trouble maker.  For no other reason than it just seemed to be fun and   I think there was part of me that wanted to be legendary. 

           I apparently succeeded. The recollections most people have of me 30/40 years later is that of a kid living a larger than life childhood, forever getting into and miraculously out of mischief.  My wife and daughter refer to it as my “mythological childhood” and are convinced I had no parental supervision whatsoever.

            In retrospect that is how I recall my childhood, adults just weren’t there.  I think that my ability to be indifferent to adults and authority figures at an early age allowed me to become so self-confident.  I apparently was devoid of any self limiting feedback.  In turn I have nothing but really really positive memories.  And they’ve stuck.

            I have since learned that in a lot of respects my inedible years were something of an aberration.  For many there are a lot of pained memories that have had just as strong an influence on them.  Things like being shunned and ostracized by others as a child, of being berated and driven by demanding parents, of being inadvertently abandoned in a shopping mall.  Those things still and unless some real wound work is taken on they become an indelible part of who a person becomes.

I have always been of the mindset that the emotion of sadness is directly tied to our relationship with the past.  People with happy childhoods, or at least perceive their childhoods as been happy and adventurous tend not to have many instances of sorrow.  It might be why kids who grow up in impoverished countries or with physical handicaps actually are happy in adult hood.  The expectations and demands were limited.  They were given a wide berth to just be kids.  And of course being a kid means drifting off into fantasy, exploring, taking on adventure and being amazed by the world.

Conversely, for men who master the mature archetype of the Lover, they realize that their past is just another story and the way in which it is currently hardwired into their consciouness can easily be rewritten.

This is why I think every kid should be given the gift of taking a hiatus from their normal environment.  Send them off to camp for the summer.  Give them a chance to recreate themselves in the image that resonates for them rather than the expectation of those adults around them.  And if you missed those opportunities as a child give yourself that gift now.  Go find a place where nobody knows your name.  Leave the blackberry at home and reimage who you want to be and see if it fits.  It takes courage to go there but the rewards can keep giving. 

  1. Roy Schuchman says:

    I was your counselor at Camp Pakatakan in 1970 until I got thrown out two days before Color War while you and the rest of the bunk were away on some kind of trip. My recollection of you is not as “rebellious” as you recall. Funny thing is, I was in the same bunk with Sandy Stock & Bobby Marcus in 1964 & 1965 and they were always in trouble then too; somethings never change. I fully endorse your thought that all kids should go to sleep away camp for a summer. Hope all is well with you,

  2. Great to hear that Camp Pakatakan had an impact on you.