Meghan Harris Reflecting On Her First Experience With Camp PALS
Meghan wrote a blog entry that really captured the essence of PALS, and the magical place we call our own at camp. We wanted to share Meghan’s blog in her own words as a Camp PALS Columbus CPS volunteer and the impression that PALS had on her.
I spent all of last week at camp PALS columbus. We danced a lot, ate a lot, and laughed even more. My last night of camp, I cried as I ran through a tunnel made out of my favorite people’s arms into the real world. On the other side of that tunnel, I read about the tragic shooting in Orlando. It was a weird feeling that I have felt far too often: leaving a bubble of how the world should be an entering the harsh and jarring world that we have created.
Let me back up a minute. Camp PALS was the most bizarre and chaotic and beautiful week I have ever experienced. Camp PALS is an organization that serves the Down Syndrome community and the camp experience is meant for young adults with Down Syndrome and their peers to have fun, grow as individuals, and build transformative friendships. In other words, camp PALS was a small glimpse of how the world was created to be.
At camp PALS columbus we had 19 campers, 19 counselors, 2 CPS, 2 media people, 3 directors, a handful of medical professionals, and 1 (incredible) staff person. We came from different cities, different backgrounds, different family lives, and a slew of other differences. However, for just one week, those differences did not matter. It was like we were all stripped from our identities and we were seen as the Lord created us to be. When I looked at my friend Emily, a camper that week, I didn’t see her as a kid with down syndrome. I saw my friend Emily with killer highlights, cool dance moves, and a laugh that will forever be my favorite sound. In the same way, I don’t think anyone at camp PALS, camper or otherwise, saw me the way the world sees me (a stressed out, sleep deprived and borderline psycho college student), rather, they saw me as Meghan, the CPS who wore chacos and smiled way too often. At camp PALS, we were free to be who we actually were. We were free to feel what we were feeling, love who we wanted to love, and laugh at everything we thought was funny. The first day of training, Courtney (our staff person for the week) encouraged us to take off our “cool caps” and actually live life while we were at camp PALS. We all took of our invisible cool caps and laughed at each other, but that week looked different because we were all on the same playing field. We could be who we wanted to be without the fear of judgement from another individual.
Camp PALS worked because we all fought to love each other without any agenda or expectation. It was an incredible week because we didn’t have to impress anyone, fight with anyone, or fear anyone. We got to live and laugh and love the way we have always longed for, the way we were always intended to live and laugh and love.
It is always scary to leave a place that is so accepting and feels so safe. It is even scarier to leave that place knowing that the world around us isn’t so accepting and safe. The shooting in Orlando is proof of that.
I know that this post will not change much, but I do believe that it is still important. I want people to know that there is hope that this world could be different. That we could live in a world that loves openly and deeply and fiercely. That we could be a people who is capable of loving all people despite all differences. I know that it is possible because for a week it was my reality. It will be possible when we take of our cool caps, our biases, our tightly held convictions. It will be possible when we realize we were all created by the same Maker, the same God who loves us so deeply. We are all beating hearts, breathing lungs, lives worth living. I’ll stand with Orlando because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. I’ll stand with the LGBTQ community because we are all worthy of love. I’ll stand with all people and celebrate all lives because that is the way it is supposed to be. It was our place there. It still can be our place now.