This I Believe

Susan - New Haven, Connecticut
Entered on July 17, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in bouncing around the room.

It’s the title of a song written and performed by the rock group Phish. It’s played on a regular basis at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp where I volunteer. It takes only a few chords of introduction, and everyone in the dining hall is up on the dance floor singing and bouncing around the room. When children are light and counselors are strong, they are hoisted onto shoulders. Where wheelchairs would confine, kids are rocked to the beat. Exuberant teens link hands and leap for joy at the chorus—singing at the top of their lungs. The less energetic kids rock on the balls of feet or bob heads. Counselors assigned to the smallest children pray that the song is repeated enough to wear their charges out for rest hour. Older volunteers massage aching knees, but jump all the same.

The song isn’t particularly child-oriented, but the chorus manages to cajole even the most reluctant child into bouncing. Dancing can be intimidating, but bouncing—anyone can bounce.

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is the creation of Paul Newman and some of his friends. At this amazing place, children with life-threatening illnesses spend a week plunged into normal childhood summer camp activities—archery, fishing, swimming, pottery, theatre, campfires—and bouncing. Accommodations for wheelchairs, energy levels and medications are all handled discretely. It’s a place where kids living under extraordinary circumstances can just be ordinary kids.

I spend as much time as I can shoehorn in volunteering for this Connecticut camp and its Floridian counterpart. I have learned so much in the process. I’ve learned how to bait a hook, how to get eight seven-year-olds to bed, how to hold a nail so that the nine-year-old pounding it allows me to leave with thumbs intact. I’ve learned that chicken nugget pizza is the best of both worlds and chocolate pudding tastes better when eaten without silverware. I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as too much glitter. I suppose I’ve learned about life and death and suffering and bravery, too. I certainly have had good teachers.

Mostly, though, I’ve learned how to express joy in five hundred different ways. I believe in that. I believe in painting faces, water fights, costumes, piggy- back rides and ice cream for breakfast. I believe in bouncing. I believe that the time to jump—wildly, joyfully, clumsily and without self-censorship—is now.