Thursday, April 17, 2008


Harvesting my old journals for nuggets of my youthful wisdom (is that an oxymoron?) I stumbled upon something that I have trouble believing came from my own pen. But it did. It's my handwriting, my experience, my appreciation. But so far removed from it I feel like sharing it the way a parent shares a child's watercolor painting, posting it on the refrigerator until it is no longer recognizable. I figured I'd find bits and pieces that I'd have to flesh out into something good... but this piece seems like something to share in it's entirety.

So this blog post serves as my refrigerator for my former youthful self.

More context...

Sixteen years ago Florida briefly served as home for me as I led Elderhostlers on canoe trips on the Wekiwa River and Rock Springs Run. One of the weeks when we weren't conducting Elderhostel courses, a group of fraternity boys from South Carolina visited as part of a project called P.U.S.H. I don't recall the words that go along with the acronym, but the point was to spend spring break in Florida doing service projects rather than partying and puking off balconies. This group of young men chose Camp Thunderbird which in the winter hosted the Elderhostel program. But in "real life" it is a camp for physically and mentally disabled people. So their projects were to improve some different areas of the camp, installing fixtures, building things, etc. In the meantime, they also had the opportunity to meet some of the clients who would benefit from their efforts. Alvin, a young man with Downs Syndrome was a frequent visitor at Camp Thunderbird who became quite attached to the frat boys.

Anyway, what follows is my thank you letter to the group in care of their leader.
March 8, 1992

Dear Mike R. (P.U.S.H. coordinator),

Today I was down at the observation deck (thank you all for that)... and I observed quite a few new things. There was a tiny translucent green spider spreading a web across one of the railings directly in front of me. If I looked carefully enough I could see a little black eye moving around looking (apparently) at me. Then out on the lake an alligator swam past. Meanwhile the frogs grew silent. When the gator passed they slowly resumed. The ripples quieted and the surface of the lake slowly returned to the intense blue reflection of the sky. And I saw, or rather observed something I hadn't noticed before... I could love the beauty of this place.

Now what difference does this make to you? Well, without your group I wouldn't have seen this. And how can I claim that the natural wonder in Florida wouldn't have become apparent without P.U.S.H.? That's why I'm writing. I think you should know what good you do beyond the physical building you do.

I'm sure you remember Alvin. Well, he's been looking for "the guys" since you left. He pops in in different places hoping to see you and says, "Oh, just you," when he discovers it's only George, Roger, Eric or me. For all the hoping and emptiness, he loves you all and he'll remember you until the day he dies.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself well. What I want you to know is that (at the risk of sounding romantic) you built more than just an observation deck, benches and a linen closet. You did more than just paint some buildings and everything else. You also built a grand memory for those clients fortunate enough to meet and make friends with you.

As far as personal appreciation, it too your enthusiasm and energy to open my eyes to the true beauty of this little place in central Florida. I understood what is attractive here: the water, the lilies, the palmetto, the raccoons, limpkins, alligators, herons, orange trees, etc. And I learned as much as I could about the flora and fauna of the area, but the attention you paid to everyone and the interest you all had in the disabled stirred some familiar feelings in me. The reasons to love a place aren't solely in the geography or even in the people. It's largely in the things that happen while you're there. Your being here was the extraordinary experience that will always keep a soft spot in my heart for central Florida -- more specifically Camp Thunderbird.

Meeting other people who enjoy and respect disabled people is continually the joy that makes my life real. It's a gift I believe we all have, we just have to be willing to be in touch with that ability.

Anyway Mike, I would appreciate your letting everyone know just how much I appreciated their being here. Our paths may never cross again, but I will always remember having met you.



P.U.S.H. "guys" pictured below. Photo on the right is their leader, Mike.
(By the way, I just noticed this, but doesn't the guy in the foreground of the group shot look like Matt Damon... just a little?)


  1. What wonderful imagery in your letter!

  2. I just wanted to let you know that my weekend blog reading was so rewarding -- with this post among my top "finds" -- that I had to write about it and two other blogs in a post I just published this morning. Keep writing! And feel free to check out my post here: