Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rebirth, part four: Closed

[ If you're new around here, check out installments one, two and three of Rebirth to make a little more sense of this entry! ]

It was January 15, 2006. I was on a huge high from buying my new (to me) and issue-free car after my Beastmobile got munched. I called my mom to tell her about my car, and she mentioned a teeny weenie little announcement in their church bulletin: "Due to geological concerns, Camp Kawkawa will be closing down at the end of January." And with that, my high came crashing down. That was it. No more information, no warning, nothing. Closed.

I found out a week later at the farewell that the camp had had a geological survey done in hopes that the 20 year building ban on the site would finally be lifted and that they could finally expand and build, having acquired the evidence that the site was indeed safe from landslide risks and other geological activity. It turned out that the survey found just the opposite, and that there was absolutely nothing the camp could do. It's not like they ran out of money and just needed a big fundraising drive. No, the mountain might fall down. Who's gonna send their kids? Any takers?

Hands were absolutely tied, and everyone - in complete shock - made the decision to close the camp.

Armed with a mighty stash of kleenex, I attended the farewell. I took part in some of the activities, but then went off on my own and walked the site. From waterfront to dining hall to field to campfire to cabins to chalets to archery and riflery, to heibertisme, and finally to campfire. Every square inch of that place held vivid memories for me. Some fun, some painful, some deeply profound. I stopped in each place, for each memory, and cried. But I also prayed, committing those memories, those people, that place to God. It was all His, anyway.

Goodbye Kawkawa 014miniGoodbye Kawkawa 057miniGoodbye Kawkawa 068miniGoodbye Kawkawa 041miniGoodbye Kawkawa 021miniGoodbye Kawkawa 054mini

Finally pulling myself together, I went back to the dining hall for the last function that would ever be held there. I remember it as a place that was filled with life - sunlight streaming in, the lake glistening down below, the ear-splitting din of a hundred kids eating and laughing and (more often than not) banging cups and plates and utensils, counsellors doing all manner of wacky things to get their hands on a much-appreciated piece of mail. The dining hall was alive in my memory, but on this day, a frosty, gloomy, January day, that life was dimmed. It was good to see people I hadn't seen in years, but, like at a dear friend's funeral, you wished you weren't seeing them under those circumstances. We hugged, we cried, we prayed. We shared memories and photos, and reassured each other that Kawkawa wasn't really the place, but the people, and that it would never truly be gone. And we only half believed it.

And then we sang. Amidst the sorrow, we worshipped. We didn't understand why God was allowing this to happen. Why God would let such a place used for His glory, such a powerful ministry, come to such a sudden and sad end. But still we knew that God is good, and that He had a plan. If He would let Kawkawa close, surely He had something better in mind, though none of us could imagine what. But we continued to sing.

One song hit me hard. Did I really believe what I was singing?

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
And blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Every blessing You pour out I'll
Turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's "all as it should be"
Blessed be You name
And blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I'll
Turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Really? Could I really sing "Blessed be your name?" Really? And then came the words, like a punch in the gut:

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say,
Lord blessed be Your name

Through my tears I pleaded. "Lord, you gave us this camp. WHY now do you take it away? We've just renovated the chapel, we've just done all this work on the grounds. We have to turn a hundred kids away every summer. Why? WHY now do you yank this way from us? Help me. Help my heart choose to bless your name now. Cause I don't understand. I know you have a plan, somehow, but I just don't get it."

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord blessed be your name...

I drove the two hour drive home alone. I couldn't get that refrain from my head. That, and the words "Closed." "Over." "Empty." "Gone." What would happen to the buildings? Would they just be left to waste away? I pictured the forest taking over, moss growing on the roofs, the walls rotting away. "You give and take away, you give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name." Could they sell the land? Who could buy it? It's not like they could build houses there, with the geological risks. What would camp become? "Closed." "Over." "Empty." "Gone." I thought of my conversation with Paulette, a beloved year-round staff person there. We both simply could not picture that once noisy, boisterous waterfront quiet. Still. "You give and take away." I thought about how I had always dreamed I would send my own children there one day. "Closed." "Over." "Empty." "Gone." I arrived home absolutely emotionally wrecked. While it was good to have a chance to say a proper 'goodbye,' it was among the saddest days of my life.

I cried every day after that for at least two weeks, and then sporadically for a few months after that. It honestly felt like a death. It's the hardest thing to describe, but that place, those people... the impact that camp had on my life... I couldn't believe it was over.

Time, as it does, eventually took the intensity of emotion away, but Kawkawa was still on my mind a lot. I began a website where people could write in with their memories, tell stories of their time there, acknowledge people who had made an impact on their lives, and write about the ways their life was impacted by their time at camp. It was my way of keeping camp alive, of doing something to deal with what felt like the loss of an incredibly significant part of my childhood and my spiritual development. Slowly, over the period of about a year, I came to grips with the fact that Camp Kawkawa - my haven, my "God place," my was gone for good.

I remember telling God that day that he had sure better have a bigger plan. Cause this plan sucked...

7 comments:

nachtwache said...

That's a beautiful song. How many parts are there to the 'Rebirth' series?

karen said...

I love that song too. But to really mean it when I sing it? THAT is the hard part. The really hard part, isn't it? Even though I know it's true, to feel that it's true isn't always there. Sometimes we just have to rely on what we know, or decide, instead of what we feel.

The Shan said...

You wrote so beautifully about this Hillary. That in itself will help your healing I'll bet. That song. I LOVE to sing it in choir at church but I have to hold back a bit each time or I'd blubber through it. It packs a punch. :}

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way about "New Life Ranch" that you seem to about Kawkawa. I still have my ranch, but OH...if it was ever gone. I just don't know...it would be hard.

Sorry you had to say goodbye. - Shelli

AfricaBleu said...

I'm SO SORRY again about your camp, Hillary. It sounds like an awesome place. Your account of it was really heart-rending, too.

Our choir sang that song last week and I was getting teary-eyed, too, because I kept thinking about the troubles in my beloved Kenya...

JR said...

Sorry to hear about Kawkawa :(.

Funny thing, we just played that song in church for recessional yesterday, and then it popped up in your blog when I checked it. Nothing like trying to drive a song of that power on the drums...

Melissa said...

I finally had some time to read this installment. Like the others, it's beautiful. I love the pictures too. Very familiar sights. Like so many well loved camps and retreats. Especially the pictures of the campfire circle. That, for me, was one of the most powerful ones.

I hope I'm right about what comes next.