Time to pack, again

Packing. A simple word that I have always dreaded. Quite frankly, it isn’t that easy or fun to label a zillion items of clothing and then cram them into two bags small enough to fit on a plane. You would think I might be good at it by now. Though from California, I’ve gone to Camp Monroe for 21 summers, Columbia for 4 years, and London and Barcelona for 4 months each. So I’ve done this packing thing a couple times. Yet somehow it repeatedly baffles me. It’s like one of those spatial games where you have to organize strangely shaped blocks into a square. You might finish it perfectly, but you don’t know exactly how. I sometimes consider writing down exactly what I bring to aid my next attempt, but it just never happens. Maybe I subconsciously believe that would take away from the mystique of it all. Who knows?

As I now begin packing for Camp Monroe 2012, though, I am experiencing a unique set of feelings. I am realizing that there is more to it than I had previously thought. In fact, packing is a mentally and emotionally profound exercise, if you allow it to be. I know this may sound a little counter-intuitive or contrived, but please bear with me.

Packing signifies movement and change. It is the launch point of a transition, when you start separating one phase of your life from another. Therefore, packing yourself is actually a significant maturity marker. When I was young, my mom packed for me, accompanied me to camp as a group leader, even quieted me when I had occasional night terrors. I was unable to successfully navigate different sections of life, still dependent on others to move through the world. Over time, mom stopped attending camp full time, I packed my own belongings, and I grew. I grew immeasurably. As you become an adult, the ability to move seamlessly between various places, cultures, and social environments, to readily adapt to new situations, might be the most important skill of all. And it is cultivated with the ability to pack. Having the self-consciousness to identify what you need physically is inextricably intertwined with having knowledge of what you need mentally and emotionally.

This is a microcosm for the whole camp experience. A central benefit of Monroe is that it helps you mature in ways impossible when living at home. You must learn to negotiate intense interpersonal circumstances, prioritize personal hygiene, be aware of timing, etc. In a word, you develop accountability.

Looking deeper, camp provides an interesting dichotomy; while spurring essential maturation, it allows you to revel in the joyful nonchalance of childhood. You don’t have to grow up too quick. You don’t have to give up valuable adolescent pleasures for some mirage of adulthood. And again, I think it comes down to the ability to separate aspects of life. Camp Monroe teaches you how to distinguish between times to be silly and times to be serious.

Furthermore, packing is also a precious nostalgic activity. Each shirt, each shoe, has meaning, especially within the Monroe frame, in which everything takes on special significance. In goes my Feast of Monroe shirt, bringing me back to my incredible waiter summer when my age group became as close a group of friends as there could ever be. In go the shoes I bought at Woodbury Commons with a gift certificate from the Handmans, three generations of camp lifers that might as well be cousins. The bumblebee jersey I still have from playing on the 15-and-under soccer team eight years ago, reminding me that my athletic ability was honed at Monroe. I just wonder what new items I will bring home this year, representing the new memories that will permanently etch themselves upon my brain.

I have not yet completely finished packing. In fact, I have a long way to go. But I like that. Life moves too fast as it is, and we don’t take stock enough. I guess I don’t hate packing, then, because it means that I’m headed to Camp Monroe.