I couldn’t help feeling like a fraud in the days leading up to Courage Camp. A happy fraud, mind you, but still a fraud.
Courageous wasn’t something I was raised to be. Courage was the purview of others—people I didn’t know, or at least wasn’t friends with. Boys. Big mouths. People who stood up to bullies and stood out in a crowd. I’d spent a fair portion of my life hiding.
How long before one of these paid participants figured that out?
I arrived at Mt. Hope Farm in Bristol, Rhode Island and was immediately struck by its heady combination of natural beauty and history. The place possessed such an endearing simplicity, everything – from buildings to butterflies – a perfect rendering of natural and human capability. The original Inn. The original barn. Both at once original and restored. Both bearing names, plaques, stories. It all felt so worthy.
Maybe if I checked in I’d feel more like I belonged.
“Oh so you’re one of the Courage Camp organizers.” That was the manager of the place. I swore I caught a side eye as she said it. Was she expecting muscles? A cape? The sheen of someone practiced in everyday heroics? Actually she just wanted to show me around, but still my mind buzzed. What would the participants say if they found out I’d spent the previous day remotely handling logistics for a cake sale at my kids’ school? Worrying that my eyebrows were too bushy and I’d forgotten my tweezers. Lamenting a chronically sore hip that surely signaled my overall decline.
Hey you, aging suburban housewife, you think have something to say – much less teach people! – about courage? Meet aging suburban housewife. She’s my alter ego, my partner, my shadow side, my enemy, my friend. She’s all that I am, and all that I am afraid to be. Whenever I’m feeling scared she sees an opportunity.
I unpacked my clothes and went for a jog, hoping it might make me feel more vital, relevant. Hoping it would tire out aging suburban housewife.
I followed a sun-speckled path, past baby goats (baby goats!) and headed towards the sea, which seemed to be calling me, offering up a reminder about limits and possibilities all at the same time, the way the sea always does. I could hear my breathing, the fall of each foot; I could feel the exquisite simplicity of the place starting to work its way through me. Maybe just being here would be enough. My chest heaved as I stared out at the Mt. Hope Bridge, the boats care-freeing their way through the water. Maybe the unabashed sense of campiness – the riot of bugs and breezes and sun that has you almost instantly reaching for a hat — would be enough to make them feel the trip was worth it.
To not have them blogging about this aging suburban housewife with delusions of braveness.
The start of Camp came and I started nervous – you always do – wanting everything to be Right, wanting to make everyone Alright. But then… but then…by mid morning on Day One I found myself lying on my back, on the grass, staring up at the sky. So many things buzzing – boats in the distance, insects – but not my mind. We’d just done an egg and spoon race. And again I could hear my breathing, watch my chest. The grass was pokey in places but it didn’t matter. Flat on the ground felt like a gift.
Then we sat in our circle and talked about our rushing towards finish lines in life, the eggs we try to protect from falling and cracking along the way. What are we trying to protect, I asked? The question meant for them, posed silently to myself. Our identities, some said, our egos, our place in this world. People shared stories of the eggs they’d spent lifetimes protecting – metaphors came easily and stories were told without scripts.
By break time on day one I realized that aging suburban housewife was lying prone on a beach chair, unbothered, maybe even relaxed.
Ease is the only word to describe the feeling. Ease with the place, with each other. Ease in my role, if not my skin.
I cannot recall such ease ever before in my life – though it must have been there before I started tweezing my eyebrows.
I’m enough, I told myself over lunch on the grass, and I’m sure aging suburban housewife heard me. But still she didn’t budge. I’m enough – it felt silly to say the words, but I did, you get silly at camp. Not good enough or fit enough or young enough or even brave enough. Just enough.
Maybe it was because it really did feel like camp. Maybe I was conjuring up that kid who at some point in her life must have felt absolutely, wholly enough. The perfect rendering of herself.
I have no idea when I lost her.
Because before there was aging suburban housewife, there was academic geek whose skin breaks out.
Then college student who still hasn’t gotten laid.
And how about project manager who doesn’t know Excel?
Not enough had been a friend to me most of my life.
Until Courage Camp. Until Mt. Hope. Until that circle of people and their eggs.
Until I reminded myself that courage was the capacity to listen. For as long as was necessary.
To look at people. In the eyes. And then know when to look away.
To be honest. About myself and my feelings, mostly. To reach deep into those feelings and pull out things you knew but didn’t recognize.
To be quiet. To not always have to have answers or even questions.
To be uncomfortable. Inside and outside, and not try to fix it.
To not get it. And have faith that soon enough I would. Or wouldn’t.
That first night I walked slowly back home giggling about men with another participant. I was tardy the next morning, pasted snippets into my sketchbook and admired my work. At Courage Camp I’d returned to something: some original potential, some belief in possibility, some stepping into and occupying the full space of the present.
Courage Camp taught me I didn’t have to hide anymore.
I am original.
I am restored.
I am brimming with Hope.
*Thank you, Deb Walsh