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Learning to Live Our Lives

By Sam Blum

Just under three weeks ago, I graduated from college. As you could imagine, there were a few different speakers present. None of them were horrible – perhaps a little dour for my taste – but they got me thinking about what we say to our young people. David Foster Wallace remarked that “the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre… is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about ‘teaching you how to think,” and although it’s a cliché, it may be a useful one. You learn to debate, to organize, to interrogate – all that good brain stuff.

But if our educational institutions exist to teach us how to think, then this camping institution must teach us how to live our lives. It’s the same kind of teaching as the aforementioned thinking. We already in a sense know how to live, just as we already know how to think. It’s more the nuances our campers will need help with. What priorities will they have? Which middot will guide them? Who will they look up to for mentorship and guidance? I can answer that last one; it’s all of you.

And the job will be challenging! It will be hard and it will take a lot out of you. The kids will take a lot out of you. And still they will expect you, frankly need you to give – to give time and attention and love and care. To give good advice, good humor, and if you can, good luck. To give blessing.

The word “bless” comes from the Latin word benedicere (beh-neh-DEE-ker-ray). As you could imagine, this is where we get the word benediction, another term for blessing. But this word is not just the source of “bless” – it is also the root of “bliss.” It is a tremendous honor and joy to give something to a camper: a pearl of wisdom, an encouraging word, a little piece of yourself. They will appreciate it more than you know. They will appreciate you more than you will know. To bless is to feel bliss.

As we embark on this task together, I am reminded of the words of Jackson Browne. “Nothing survives but the way we live our lives.” With our time and our energy – with our blissful blessings – we have the opportunity to pass this on. To build something holy here, something that survives.

Sam Blum will be the Kineret unit head this summer. He recently graduated from Wesleyan University. Sam is from South Salem, NY. This will be his 5th summer on staff and his 11th summer at Camp Harlam. Fun fact his favorite camp meal is pierogies! 

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