When Sue and I were married, back in October of 1980, I was an undergraduate student at California State University Fresno. My job, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and every holiday, from 3:30 to midnight, was as an “environmental engineer” — i.e. housekeeper/janitor — at Saint Agnes Hospital. The job was perfect for a student because it did not interfere with going to school. However, Sue hated my job because it left her alone every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and every holiday from 3 to midnight.
They call it Saint Agnes Medical Center now, and it’s more than twice as large now than it was back in the day. Now, almost 30 years later, Sue’s hell bent on getting even. She’s been over there every night from 3 to midmight for two weeks.
We met at a high Sierra Christian camp about three years before we got married. I was on staff as a maintenance “man” and Sue was hired as a cook. Maintenance back then meant everything from fixing things to cleaning toilets, and included washing dishes three and sometimes four times a day. That set the tone for our marriage, as Sue has spent thirty years dirtying up the kitchen (she’s a really good cook, by the way) and I have spent 30 years traipsing behind cleaning it up. Our youngest daughter likes to say that my favorite thing to do is run the dishwasher. Darn right. Leave no dirty dish behind!
We’ve have had involvement with the camp, Camp Keola, in some capacity for all the time we’ve known each other, and our Lakeview Cottages which we co-purchased with a group of friends is right next door to Camp Keola, on the southwest shore of Huntington Lake. So Huntington Lake is, quite frankly, our favorite place in the world. In a sense, it is our place in the world.
Each summer for as long as I can recall, Valley Childrens’ Hospital runs a camp at Camp Keola for kids with cancer. They call it Camp Sunshine Dreams. The camp is run by the doctors, nurses and staff of Valley Childrens’ Hospital, as well as involved family members and volunteers. It is an annual week of high-energy fun and encouragement for kids in a tough situation. Through years of peripheral involvement with Camp Sunshine Dreams I learned one unequivocal truth: cancer’s tough on the body, but it doesn’t kill the spirit. If anything, it kindles the spirit. (Click the Camp Sunshine Dreams link and look at some of the slide shows if you’re not convinced, or if you just want to be inspired.)
The Camp Sunshine Dreams organizers have a nice campfire tradition. Every year on the last night of camp they have a special campfire where everyone puts down a wish or a hope or a prayer on a piece of paper, and wraps it up and puts it into the fire. The prayers are sent heavenward with the heat and smoke and flames, and, mixed all together with each other, form a powerful elixir of life and love and hope.
Life is very real for the Sunshine Dreams kids, and so is death. Every now and then they lose one of their kindred. And then, by symbolism, or sometimes by ashes of the deceased, they introduce the decedent to the campfire of dreams, to the elixir of life and love and hope. And when the fire has died down and cooled, they stir up the ashes and take home a jar of the ashes, and next year, when the campfire of hope is rekindled, they start with the ashes from the previous year.
And that campfire of dreams is a metaphor for how we should live. We have our hopes and our dreams and our prayers, and we offer them in community, sharing each others’ hopes and dreams and prayers; and we live life to the fullest; and we don’t forget our fallen fellow travelers; we take them with us and their spirit is and always will be a part of who we are.