Do you remember your first “Aha!” moment? Mine came when I was about 10 years old. I went to a Girl Scout camp every summer, a place I loved unconditionally. I had camp friends and camp traditions and camp clothes and a whole camp persona. At home, I was just me with all my faults and insecurities. No one at camp knew my history or the dozens of embarrassing incidents at school and at home. (When you grow up in a small town as I did, everyone knows everything about you. If you peed your pants in second grade, then at your 3oth high school reunion, you would still be called “Pee Pants.”) But at camp I was a leader; fearless, confident, ready for anything. At camp, I could truly be who I wanted to be.
Camp was a glorious blur of learning new things, making new friends and enjoying the company of old friends, and just plain fun. I slept fully and deeply, ate hugely, ran and swam and biked and sailed and canoed and fished and hiked and built camp fires. I made up ghost stories I told around a flickering camp fire, and for the first time in my life, found I had a talent for storytelling. Encouraged by all those frightened faces, I made the stories scarier and more bizarre. One of the counselors, Jinx, whom I adored, took me aside after a night of ministering to terrified kids suffering from nightmares. She told me that it’s one thing to entertain, and quite another to show off. Gently, she explained that, in my desire to be popular, I had caused her and another counselor to lose their well-deserved sleep to comfort the scared girls. Not only that, but the same girls begged their parents to come take them home. The enormity of what I had done overwhelmed me and I felt truly guilty. (But I never lost that thrill of creating stories out of my head.)
One of the many attractions of being in camp was the gently-enforced rule to create your own nickname. This would be your “official” camp name. Mine was Spider. I hated spiders (still do), and although the nickname made sense to me then, I’ve forgotten why it did.
Our camp was across the lake from a Boy Scout camp, and once a summer, our camp visited their camp. There was horseback riding, crafts, a contest of camping skills such as building a camp fire in record time, making lean-to shelters and canoe races. There was a big dinner, and a dance at night.
My “Aha!” moment came while we were visiting. I was talking with a boy who had beaten my time at camp fire building, and we were comparing notes. I remember thinking that all boys weren’t horrible; this one was actually pretty nice, even if he had beaten me. Suddenly we both felt the ground shake beneath us, and one of my tent mates, a tiny girl from Bath, came galloping by on a horse. In the time it took for me to register that 1) the horse was out of control, 2) my friend was screaming in terror and in trouble, I ran up to the horse, grabbed the bridle and hung from it to slow him down. To my amazement, the horse actually came to a halt, and one of the three counselors who had come running down the hill after the horse was able to rescue my friend.
One of the counselors checked my friend over, determined she was not hurt, only badly scared. The first counselor gentled the horse, and lead him back to the barn. The last counselor took me by the shoulders and asked if I was all right. I nodded; I couldn’t seem to speak right then. He asked how I had known to do the right thing to stop the horse; I stammered that I really didn’t know–I had been just scared that my friend would be hurt. I don’t remember much after that, although a girl I still keep in touch with told me later that “everyone” was talking about how brave I was. All I remember to this day was dumbstruck wonder that I did what I did.
That happened decades ago, and, as Wendy told Peter Pan when he finally came for her; “My dear, I am ever so many years past 20.” I don’t understand why we get these glimmers of greatness any more than I did when I was 10. All I know is that that was my first moment of knowing that I was capable of more than I knew.
Do you remember your first “Aha!” moment? You probably do on some level, and maybe you never gave yourself credit for it. Believe me, these are the unexpected gifts we receive all through our lives. They seem to come out of nowhere, and there is no predicting them. We have all read about mothers who, after a car accident, were able to lift that car off their child. There are so many stories of men and women who put their own safety aside to help or carry another person down the stairs in the World Trade Center buildings during 9/11. There is the policeman who ran toward a car fire on the highway, reached through the window to pull the unconscious driver out before the engine blew. So many people, both First Responders or simply ordinary people, rushed into the street during the Boston Marathon bombings to help the injured and get them out of harm’s way.
Perhaps your “Aha!” moment hasn’t come yet. Trust me, it will. And trust me, you will know what to do.