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.