enjoying the eliot institute again

Our family spent the past week enjoying the Eliot Institute at Seabeck.  This is a family camp for Unitarian-Universalists, held on the shores of the Hood Canal, three times per year (July, August, and December).  Our family has attended since 2004, and we’ve come to look forward to this as a special week, surrounded by many friends from all over the Pacific Northwest.

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The camp includes programs for both adults and kids.  Each morning begins with an ingathering, which starts off with a great slideshow composed of pictures taken the previous day (and compiled by my friend Alex Koerger).  The slideshow is accompanied by music that camp participants play along to, which adds a wonderfully personal feeling to the pictures.  For me, the pictures do a great job of capturing the feelings for each day, from the poignant to the hilarious.

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Each year, the program centers on a speaker.  This year, the speaker was the Reverend Stefan M. Jonasson, and the focus was on "Letters of the Spirit".  Over the week, he discussed ways that UUs can build out their "loose-leaf" Bibles, things that help us define and understand our spiritual selves.  UU’s often take a more open-ended approach to this than more traditional religions.  This spirit was reflected in the small group discussions we had following the morning program.

Afternoons are generally comprised of a combination of sports, or just hanging out at the lagoon, and swimming.  I’d use the time to ride my bike, run, or get humbled by twenty-somethings playing ultimate frisbee.  Many folks also spent time tie-dying – which gave us a great art gallery to enjoy.  All 400+ pieces were hung to dry on one of the upper fields.

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KK spent the time hanging out with friends, participating in the cannonball contest, or swimming. 

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R spent her time swimming, hanging out with her friends, or playing watermelon polo.

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One afternoon in the middle of the week, we said goodbye to longtime Elioteer Peter Knoepfler, who passed away a couple of months back.  Our family had the good fortune to stay in the same house as the Knoepflers for several years.  In addition to having accomplished much in his life, Peter was a gentle soul who gave much of himself to those around.

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Evening activities include "Firelight", a great tradition of sing-alongs and jokes.  This year was a bit different, as one of the major contributors to this was away at a conference.  True to form though, several others stepped up to keep the tradition alive.  The range of music we get to hear is wonderful – everything from traditional folks standards from Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, to some humorous songs, and some more contemporary ones too.  It’s always great seeing at least three generations of campers there enjoying the music.

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Usually, there’s a game or another event following the evening ingathering.  Old favorites include playing "Encore" or "To Tell the Truth".  Afterwards, we’d turn in, or linger in conversation with friends for a while.  Late in the week, there’s a talent show that allows both kids and adults to have lots of fun.

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Camp this year was a particularly special time for us.  Last year during camp, I was in the hospital.  Kris arranged to have the girls go with our good friend Jenny and her daughter.  While they were there, the community looked after them, and made sure they were in a good place.  It was a difficult time for us, with the future looking pretty uncertain.  Having them in such good, caring hands made us feel much better, and it was a lot more fun for the girls than shuttling to and from the hospital.

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I was amazed at how many people came up to me and told me that they’d kept up on the Caring Bridge entries that Kris wrote.  I was deeply moved by receiving so many kind words and hugs from our Eliot friends this week.  Often, we only see each other one week out of every year.  It is amazing how strong the connection is, and how much of a difference this community has made in my life. 

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I spent some time out riding my bike along the same 30 mile loop I’d ridden two summers ago, with the folks I’d ridden with before.  As I would ride, I’d feel the apprehensions I’d expect, with the traffic speeding along beside me.  But the combination of the surrounding natural beauty (country roads winding along the water and through the woods), and the great feeling of companionship helped me to focus on the road ahead, rather than worrying about things one really can’t predict or control.

The small group discussions this year held a similar significance.  Several of us in our group had life-changing experiences in recent years – including serious illness, death of a close family member, and the odd bike accident.  Given the range of experiences, we got to discuss the subject from many different perspectives – not centering on one person’s experience.  One discussion we had explored the metaphor of travel through the "wilderness".  This was a fairly fascinating exercise for me, as I found myself thinking about the surrounding beauty, learning experiences, and close companionship that we can experience in addition to the very unsettling feeling of traveling an unknown path without a map. 

This metaphor sums up much of how I’ve felt over the past year.  We don’t necessarily choose our path, nor can we always predict how we’ll travel or when we’ll arrive.  It’s important that we focus on being present, making the most of things as they are, and trying to reach where we want/need to be.  Friends and community help us do this. 

And July Eliot has been a great place for us to learn and experience this.

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