03 February 2020

Spending Time in Lots of Words

Camp Glisson Chapel, 2 February 2020. Photo credit: Photography by Tony Carlson

Yesterday was a hard day. To be honest, it's been a hard 10 days or so, since a camp friend of mine sent me a message to let me know that a camp friend of both of ours, Ben George, had died. I spent time in lots of words yesterday, listening to stories I had heard and lived told by people that I hadn't seen in decades - and it was like we never left.

Let me back up just a little. Regular Lettuce readers will know that I spent most of my formative summers at a United Methodist summer camp in the wilds of northern Georgia called Camp Glisson. I had some of the best and worst times there. The high flying freedom to explore and believe and sing and be part of something bigger than yourself. The crushing lows of friendships lost and hearts broken, as they so easily were back at that age. The idea that no matter where I was or how old I got - or how much my life would change, Camp would always be there, beckoning me back home.

As a UM preacher's child, I moved a lot. I attended five different UMCs growing up and lived in seven different parsonages from 1971 (birth) to 1993 (my last year on staff at camp - the last summer before I graduated from Maryville College). Camp Glisson was special in my spiritual/religious life because where other kids had a "home church," Camp was my home church. It was my constant.

L-R Back Row: Andy Peabody, Ben George, Marty Martin
L-R Front Row: Me, Joseph Veltre
Another constant in my Camp life was a man named Ben George. He was there as a camper at the same time I was and started working there one year before I did. He was larger than life and loved Camp more than anyone else I know - even more than I did. Yesterday, as many of us as were able gathered at Camp, in the chapel pictured above, to remember Ben and say goodbye.

I was reminded of so many things about him yesterday - but the one that has stuck with me is that when he was going to take a nap in his cabin, he would say that he was going to "spend some time in the Word." I've spent lots of time in the Word, both literally and figuratively, but I have not found such a strong foundation, a definite purpose, or a solid sense of self as Ben had. He was loud, wickedly funny, dark, and sometimes rude, but he was consistent in his presentation and fiercely - possessively loyal to his friends. It was said yesterday that Ben never forgot his friends - if you fell out with him (as I did on more than one occasion) and thought that was the end of the road for your friendship YOU WERE WRONG. Ben had an amazing capacity for forgiveness and love that I will admit now I never knew.

I thought the reason this loss was shaking all of us to our cores - close friends or not - was that it was like the heart of camp was now gone. Peter Pan had died. But I was wrong, it isn't that he died - it's that he lived, and lived so well, and showed us all that most of life's problems could be tackled with enough hazelnut coffee, a guitar, and spending some time in the Word with the people you love.

We listened to lots of words yesterday, and we were comforted and made better. We were together again - Ben brought us together again at camp one last time. There was even a pot of hazelnut coffee. Thank you, Ben. Thank you.


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