What I Learned from Camp Bluebird

I attended this past weekend a camp for cancer survivors sponsored by St. Thomas called Camp Bluebird in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was so invigorating to be there and life changing.  This is quite ironic given I had been hesitant to attend.  What I walked away with on Sunday was a willingness to proudly call myself a bluebird.   I gained a deep understanding of what this term actually means and how it will forever impact my life.

The camp has bluebirds as its chosen mascot.  In songs, quite often this type of bird has implies happiness.  How appropriate given cancer survivors believe that we should live every day as if it could be the last, thus embrace it with joy.  The Camp is dominated with an overwhelming sense of happiness from beginning to end.  Hugs are given freely and plentiful.

This breed, bluebirds, is also well known for singing.  Lifting voices in song is something that is done quite often at Camp. It matters not whether any one present has a great singing voice. All that matters is the spirit that is behind the song.  Singing comes from the soul and that is really what matters at Camp, letting the soul shine, just letting the walls come down and everyone see who you really are.  Amazing too that people embrace you for who you are and where you are at with your life. Total acceptance is something unheard of in most places these days.

Last but certainly not least, bluebirds flap their wings.  This so closely resembles stemming behavior of an autistic child like my grandsons.  It is a way for my grandsons to keep themselves in a safe zone.  At our camp, it is our Vegas, what is expressed there remains there. It is our safety net. We are joined at the hip there and are in our own little world.  For the long weekend we attend Camp Bluebird it is as if time is suspended.  There are no phones, no television, just togetherness and sharing and caring.   

Cancer survivors need to have time with other survivors so that they know the fear they live with, the appreciation for life and the self-discovery path is the norm.  It actually is re-energizing. The volunteers that attend the camp want to be a part of the healing process too.  The can also not only learn but gain insight into cancer recovery, cancer treatment, and how precious life can be.  The volunteers are as vital to the camp experience as the cancer survivors are, each individual brings something that makes the camp experience unique and special.  The mutual learning, sharing and giving of each other makes the bonding between not only the survivors but the volunteers also quite strong and lasting.

What made Camp Bluebird unlike anything I have ever experience before was the total acceptance and love felt from everyone.  Being with a large diverse group of people I had hardly met before and everyone being open to me and each other.   There was no envy, no gossip, put downs, lack of respect not arguments.  Everyone present was real from the minute they got there to the minute they left. There was no pretense about trying to impress anyone, talk of where they worked, who they knew, etc…  It was simply about living in the moment, what they felt, sharing the present and loving it.  It was also about extending their love and care to others. Human compassion for others was something to behold; it could be felt in the air.  The listening skills at Camp are to be envied by all. 

This Camp is full of laughter, full of pranks, full of mischief and one-liners!  Laughter is heard through-out the camp.   It is an extended family where hugs are given freely, often and by all.  It is a place where newcomers are embraced and told they are welcome and have a new support system they can call on.   A young volunteer woman said it best, “People meet each other right where they are at.”  Total unconditional acceptance is not something most of us experience and certainly not in a large group setting.  But at Camp Bluebird, it is reality.  

Cancer kills but this Camp shows it does not kill one’s spirit.   This camp is full of fighters. Those that have fought and won celebrate but still remain grateful and have compassion for those present fighting a battle that is against all odds.  Honor is given the last day to those that have attended camp in the past and gone to heaven.  They are celebrated and balloons are released in remembrance.  This demonstrates that the spiritual bonds remain and these folks will not be forgotten.  They are still a part of Camp Bluebird.   

A great deal of work goes on by very few to put this Camp on every 6 months year after year.  You could safely say it is a labor of love continually done over and over again.  I am amazed at the amount of work that goes into the planning process and the sheer volume of coordination even once the camp opens.   But yet, the organizers do it, and the volunteers freely give up their time.  Surely they know that their graciousness is a kindness that goes beyond a simple thank you. 

What I think Camp Bluebird means to me is what my friends told me it means when they tried to get me to go.  It is a chance to be loved and give love to strangers that, at the end of the weekend are not strangers but an extended family of bluebirds!  And bluebirds, this class of bluebirds, are truly a special breed that I am blessed to have in my life and I indeed to treasure for always!

Here is a video I threw together of some of the many pictures others took of the weekend. There were far too many to begin to show all and everyone in attendance so this is just a sampling. But I think it is more than enough to show the love and rewards of this special place!   Click Here to view it on YouTube. 


Letting Go is Being Real

Our world is so convoluted with messages of having to look this way, beautiful beyond possible for most of us and having to be perfect in every way, the immaculate homemaker, always thoughtful spouse, thrifty shopper, most marketable employee, etc.   It makes it almost impossible to just do a reality check and accept yourself for who you are, letting all expectations of society by the wayside and be you!

Perhaps that is the message in the song Let It Go from Disney’s movie Frozen. When I read the lyrics and saw the video, it was a beautiful example of how someone who had to hide her non-conformity began to accept it.  In the video, the star character, embraced her individuality. What an inspirational message for all ages actually. 

When I am with my grand-daughter, who, coincidentally is in love with not only the movie but the theme song, I am always reminded of freedom of expression.  Ava does not hide behind a wall of shame for how she feels.  She does not fear retaliation for who she is and what she is becoming.  She, like the Elsa, wraps her tiny arms around herself as she is, at any given moment and celebrates the thrill of life. She will laugh throwing her head back and let out a laugh that comes from her toes. Her celebration of good humor is simply something to listen to because it causes everyone within earshot to split at the seams into laughter just from the musical sound of her laughing, with no reservation. She will laugh at herself as easily as at anyone. 

The messages consumers get, especially women, to always look your best are pounded in from an early age.  Commercial marketing is powerful. Ava is a party to this already, praising and loving little princesses. But, what is different about her is the gentle acceptance of herself. She can throw herself into a beautiful gown her mom can buy her and then, in the blink of any eye, tear it off and run around in the most unbecoming of items in the house without a single care in the world!  If anyone were to walk in, which has happened when I have been over visiting, does she react like most girls and run for cover?  Well, here she not in her girly best, pink or purple, matching clothes with a closet full of beautiful outfits but Ava has no concern whatsoever to greet anyone with whatever she happens to have on. Not for one minute would she hesitate to make a guest wait!  Ava is front and center with a friend or anyone that is a guest in her home. You must like her and accept her for who she is in the same way she will accept you, no labels allowed by this little lady! And she will greet everyone as friendly as the next person no matter who they are or what they have on!

Living in the moment is something too many of us do not do. I think it probably took having cancer for me to get a much better handle on this. My grand-daughter came of it naturally. I am not sure if having two autistic brothers has played a part or not but she treasures time spent with others.  If she gets a minute of your time, she inhales it like it is the best gift she has ever received.  Most children take it for granted. Not Ava, she will let you know in her own unique way that you made her day.  She will be engaging, entertaining and create a memory that will be everlasting. Why can’t we, as adults, embrace our interactions with others with this same passion?  We always seem to assume there will be another time, another visit, and another day.  We have no guarantees that this is going to happen. We should seize the moments as they come. Languish the time we have with each other. Give undivided attention when we are with someone we want to share out time with so that we are not wasting our moments or those.

So many people have thoughts running through their head that get in the way of listening.  These internal tapes also disallow people to sometimes take down their walls and be open to each other about who they are.   Conformity seems to be a top priority and the fear of rejection overrides being real with others.  Thus too often others put up a fa├žade of who they are to project an image to gain acceptance. This is stress inducing, unhealthy and self-limiting.  You are who you are and should be proud of it!  Society needs to stimulate an environment more often than not that promotes this.  Once you celebrate your acceptance and openness of who you are, your own uniqueness, you open the door for others to be unrestricted as well.  Let go of your preconceived notions and the negative tape of others programming you.  This also means allow your children to be different to some extent.

I pray my grand-daughter can continue to accept her independence her entire life.  May she always have no self-consciousness about hugging herself for exactly who she is.  I know those of us that surround her are constantly reminded by her of the importance of staying true to living in the moment with Ava around, she will never let us forget it. 

We can see through her eyes a world filled with joy,things to celebrate! We can learn from her to forget what it is not.  With Ava, we celebrate little things that give color to the world, even weeds that look like flowers instead of complaining about all the 'have nots' in our lives, the people that won’t play with her, the brothers that have autism and can’t talk well to her.  She loves them dearly and would not trade them for anything or change one hair on their head.   From Ava we see a new way to laugh at the world, finding humor in the smallest of things, instead of being miserable when things don’t look right.  Yes, a little girl who's immediate reaction is always to smile followed by a laugh.

Most importantly of all, Ava is like the character Elsa at her tender age of 6. She is learning to take her image of being a little girl and letting it go.  She can be and is, whatever she wants to be. Stereo-types don't mean much to Ava.  She is modeling her mother and her father and all the other people in the world she comes in contact.    And she is being real about it.  And she doesn’t hide who she is but is right there, in your face.  I can run faster than boys, dance great with girls, and get over disappointments quickly.  

So are you?  Are you able to let go of preconceived notions of what the world wants you to be?  Are you able to be real with yourself, real honest, and throw out the old tapes in your head of other's expectations and accept yourself and be true to you?   Only when you can, can you find that inner sense of peace, love and happiness.