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  • It was the final night of my summer stay at Camp Belknap in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. I had just returned from the hospital after cutting my foot on a part of one of the the docks while taking it apart and was eager to join in the final dinner shared among all the leaders and staff. I hobbled onto the beach outside the dining hall and was met with an unfamiliar scene. It was unusual to see sadness and tears in a setting meant for fun and happiness, and I almost felt like an outsider coming in late. Regardless, I was encouraged to get some of the home cooked barbecue, and walked over to a table covered with all kinds of dishes perfect for a summer evening. I took just enough to satisfy my hunger, and went to find a seat with some of the leaders my age. I ate and talked with the ones still eating, although the conversation was less jovial and energetic than it usually was. Several people asked about my foot, and I explained what had happened each time, but at this point it was more of a formality to ask, as everyone had bigger issues on their minds. I still felt as though I was not quite fitting in emotionally, and wasn't really feeling the same way some of the other leaders were. Soon though, once I finished my meal and started walking around, saying goodbye to the friends and mentors I had spent nine weeks with, I began to understand how they felt and why they were so upset. I continued to mill around, sharing a parting embrace, a few words, and a nostalgic laugh with each new face I encountered. And each time I became more and more unwilling to leave and more and more attached the people around me and the setting I was in.

    I wasn't really keeping track of time, but after what felt like half an hour of goodbyes, I walked up to one of my best friends, Declan, who I could tell was just as sad I was was from saying all the goodbyes. Declan and I had spent the entire summer together--from the first four weeks as leaders in the youngest division to the last four weeks in one of the oldest--we had gone from strangers to what felt like lifelong friends in two short months. On days off, I always made sure to sit passenger in his car and blast music as we cruised through New Hampshire up and down mountains and around lakes. It was saying goodbye to Declan that finally made me break down, and truly ended an unforgettable summer. The thing is, as a camper, I was never sad to leave camp. Other boys would get emotional on the last night, especially as they got older and their time at Belknap became limited, but I would not, and that always bothered me. But on that night on the beach, saying goodbye to Declan and the friends I had worked with for the past two months, some of whom I had know for almost my entire tenure as a camper, I realized that it was not the place itself I was sad to leave, but the people in it. While Belknap is without a doubt a beautiful setting, an ancient pine grove on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, it is the people that embed their personalities into this place that make it so special. Without these people, it would be just forest on a lake, with some buildings, cabins, and fields. But with these people, it becomes so much more than that.

    While this final night was one of the most difficult endings I've ever dealt with, I was reminded of one of the camp's proverbs: "Be joyful. Seek the joy of being alive." Despite the sadness of saying goodbye, I knew that the best thing I could do would be to look back on the summer and know that I made sure to seek the joy.
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