I had a remarkable opportunity the other week. Sarah is 11 years old, and had never been to camp before. She’s fighting cancer, and when I broached the subject of Camp Simcha, her parents were skeptical. “Leave us for 2 weeks? You must not know Sarah! She still sleeps in our bed! There’s no way she’ll go!”
Well, just a few months later, I was driving down Interstate 87 from Montreal to the Catskill Mountains, Sarah sitting shotgun, on our way to camp. It’s a long drive, nearly 6 hours, so we had lots to talk about. I asked her about the first time we met. It was in the hospital, and she was preparing for an MRI. She told me that her mother was anxious that she wouldn’t talk to me, but there was nothing to worry about. As I left, she gave me the biggest hug, and mom smiled.
After she came out of her first big surgery, I made sure there were visitors at her bedside. Even though I was told she’d be nervous meeting even more new people, we really had nothing to worry about. Chai Lifeline’s volunteers are so friendly and warm, that Sarah just opened up to them. They were there for every treatment through Sarah’s long winter. As we drove through the forests of upstate New York on a beautiful summer day, Sarah told me about how that winter seemed warmer and those nights seemed brighter when her Chai Lifeline friends came to visit.
After a few hours, we arrived. When I meet new parents in the fall, I promise them that the countdown until Camp will be worth it. Over the winter, returning campers often text me their countdowns. Even so, nothing could have prepared me for Sarah’s introduction.
The tall gates opened, and the counselors and volunteers swarmed my little car. Every wanted to meet Sarah and dance with her, and as she swayed along to the rhythm of the crowd, I just had to sit back and enjoy her excitement and happiness. I wasn’t a parent dropping their child off for the first time, but seeing her dancing under the big Camp Simcha Banner I could see how far she’s come and how much Chai Lifeline treats families and children as one of our own.
When you watch Chai Lifeline videos, what do you see? Sick children. Smiling, laughing, happy sick children, but sick children nonetheless. But what I see is so much more. I see my children at camp, and I see every fear, every moment of sadness, all the pain, just melt away. I see a child allowed to be a kid again.
As I wrote this last week, Camp Simcha girls was finishing up for the year, and we were welcoming our girls home, starting their countdowns til next year. Tomorrow, Camp Simcha boys begins, and I can’t wait to see them swarmed, encircled by love, care, and hope.