This I Believe

Matthew - Webster, New York
Entered on March 1, 2007

“…I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not make a new acquaintance.” Samuel Johnson believed in the true power of friendship. He knew that each day you should reach out to a stranger, and make a new friend. While many experiences in my life have had a heavy impact on me, one stands out as the event that showed me the veracity of Samuel Johnson’s words.

As the car pulled down the dirt road, a thousand thoughts passed through my mind. Would I like the people? Would the people like me? Each summer for five years I had spent a week at Camp Stella Maris. This time, however, was different: I would be no camper, but a Leader in Training, engaging in the camp’s leadership program with twenty-one strangers. I looked around at my fellow “LITs.” Most of them looked as nervous as I felt.. During the next fourteen days I would learn, contrary to everything I had known in my life, that the very best of friends could be created from complete strangers.

Camp Stella Maris’s leadership program was of a two-week duration. Each morning, after breakfast, the group would sit down together on the vividly green lawn to listen to our counselors’ wisdom. First, our instructors introduced a topic, such as non-judgmental listening, and we would break into pairs to hone the skill. Through these activities, the barriers that we as humans subconsciously construct to repel strangers were obliterated, allowing us to create bonds of not only friendship, but also family. Once we saw how good of a friend can be made from a stranger, we began to reach out to strangers around us. One morning, we spotted an elderly man jogging along the hundred yards of road at the bottom of the lawn. Without a word to each other, we leapt from our place and sprinted to the man, and, despite the confused look on his face, ran and cheered with him until he had left our site. This random act of encouragement showed that we had begun to see strangers not as people to avoid, but as potential friends.

Every morning, two or three LITs would have their turn presenting the “morning prayer.” We didn’t sit in a circle and sing gospel songs, but rather, we taught each other. The presenters picked a song to play, and then discussed its meaning with the group. Through each prayer, our group of strangers grew closer and closer. Suddenly, those twenty-one strangers were twenty-one acquaintances. Twenty-one acquaintances became friends, and at last, by the end of the two weeks, twenty-one complete strangers had grown into one family. It took fourteen days to teach us how strangers can be the best of friends.

It was the night before we would be torn away from our haven and thrown back into the real world. The occasion called for something special. All twenty-two of us grabbed our mattresses off of our bunks and hauled them up the hill to the camp’s amphitheater. Eventually, we managed to heap all the mattresses together and lay down in a tangled mess of legs, arms, blankets, and pillows. Our counselors, being a part of this tight-knit family, surprised us with a screening of The Goonies on the camp’s massive projector. We all enjoyed the movie, but were fixated on the day to come. It didn’t take long for one of us the shed a tear, followed by a torrent of salty water pouring from every pair of eyes. We sat together for hours, embraced in a tangled web of love and limbs. While we would all miss the strange and spectacular times we shared together, such as shouts of “booyakashaa,” or the forensic investigation of one squirrel’s tragic death, we all would walk away better people. We left each other believing that every day might be lost, in which we do not make new acquaintances.