Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 15, 2021
I was your typical happy-go-lucky, clueless kid, content to play baseball and ride my bike and ignore the drearier aspects of life, such as homework and Sunday School. So it is perhaps surprising that once, for the briefest of moments, I experienced something like youthful transcendence.
It was mid-summer 1958 and I was enjoying the bucolic setting of a pine-forested boys’ camp on Long Lake near Harrison, Maine. This was when summer sleepaway camps weren’t a piddling two days or two weeks. We went away for almost two months – from the end of June through mid-August. We put the time to good use swimming, sailing, playing baseball and tennis, visiting other camps and going on weekend outings. I learned to dive and play chess and made good friends.
At the end of the fourth week my mom and dad came up from New York for parents’ weekend. A day of activities was planned for them, including watching a camp ballgame. Everyone – parents and kids – were at the nearby ballfield a quarter of a mile up the forested hillside. For some reason I was dispatched back to my cabin to retrieve something.
I don’t remember the details, except that as I headed back out, at the moment the screen door slammed behind me, I felt a rush of wind and a sense of joy and peace that I had never experienced before, and perhaps since.
I’ve pondered this question for years. It’s more than just idle wonderment; it seems somehow important – critical even – to understand why this feeling of serenity washed over me just at that moment, a moment when nothing consequential seemed to happen.
The best I’ve come up with is that I was happy my parents were around, but also happy we weren’t together. Does that make sense? They were nearby, I was going back to see them – but I was at that moment by myself. As a centrovert (a word I thought I coined only to learn it already exists, meaning someone who enjoys being with people as well as being alone), I was happy to have the lower camp briefly to myself. I was the only person around, everyone else was at the ballfield. But I was heading back there, to rejoin them. Alone and soon-to-be together.
Not much of an explanation. More of a continuing mystery.
Until just now.
As I write this I am in our backyard working on my laptop. The weather is perfect, just as it seemed to me at that moment those many decades ago: sunny, mid-70s, distant fluffy white clouds floating across the brilliant blue sky. I glance up to see a little white butterfly fluttering among the plants. Then a gust of wind stirs the trees and flowers.
It’s the wind! There it is again, that lovely whispering sound, that soft touch of warmth on my skin, the lazy swaying branches, the gentle reminder of sweet nature. Again, I experience solitude and the briefest moment of joy and transcendence. I am busy working but also alive to the senses and the weather and the atmosphere and the togetherness of all things.
The wind connects us with everyone and every place. Of course Epictetus and Blake and Whitman and Jim Morrison said it better: we are in everything and everything is in us. Maybe that’s the momentary epiphany I had when the wind blew and I was running back to be with my parents.