Tuesday questions, Ecclesiastes 3:4 edition

I’m just going to warn everyone in advance that I am about to get all kinds of sentimental up in here.  If you have a low tolerance for that kind of thing, probably best to move right along.

So I have already made reference at least once to the place I love best in the world.  In truth, it wasn’t a particular place, but rather a collection of people who would gather every year for a specific purpose.  During the years I was associated with it, it was actually held in three different locations.

It was a camp.

Specifically, it was a camp for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS.  The only requirement for attendance (which was free) was that someone in the family had to be affected in some way by the disease.  Perhaps it was a parent.  Perhaps it was an uninfected child whose parents had died of the disease, now living with aunts or uncles.  The details varied a lot.  But whatever the way the family was affected, everyone within that family was welcome to come along.

The families almost all came from the New York City metro area.  I started volunteering during residency.  (At that time, my residency program supplied two residents per camp session.  Over the years, that association lapsed.)  The beginning of my time there was right on the cusp of when HIV was an invariably fatal diagnosis and when it became a manageable chronic condition.  It was my job as part of the medical staff to administer medications to the kids during the week.  For that week, at least, the parents or caregivers could relax and know that their children’s medications were being taken care of by medical professionals.  They could all be campers, just like at any other summer camp.

I loved it immediately.

Irrespective of the somber reason everyone was there, it was easily the most joyful place I had (or have) ever been.  The whole point of being there was to give a group of people who often faced terrible struggles for 51 weeks one week of pure, unadulterated fun and love.  Many of the families lived in isolation and fear, daring to tell nobody their diagnosis.  For one week they were surrounded by people who knew what their lives were like, in a place where they could share their stories without judgment.  (It was in that setting, with social workers and mental health professionals on hand, that many parents opted to disclose to their children for the first time that they themselves were HIV positive.)

It was the best week of my life, year after year.  For a handful of days I could be as nutty and loud and ridiculous as I wanted, all in the service of joy.  For a handful of days, I was surrounded by people whose sole concern was the happiness of others.  Like any human endeavor, there were flaws and conflicts and problems here and there, but they were dwarfed by the good will and compassion that informed the entire enterprise.

I loved it so much that, before signing contracts for two different jobs I took after residency, I stipulated that I needed that summer week off guaranteed.

And then life happened, and one year it just simply wasn’t possible to go.  To say that I was deeply bummed out when camp week rolled around would be an understatement.  But I survived, and was able to go back again the next year.  But then life kept happening, and a couple of years ago the Better Half (who had begun to join me and formed a bond with the camp in his own right) and I decided we could no longer work camp into our summers.

But still we gave financial support, and still our love for the place endured.  As did so many of the friendships we had formed there, with people we had come to love like family.

Yesterday an email was sent out to volunteers and supporters of the camp that it would no longer go forward.  Funding has been harder and harder to come by, and it is simply no longer a sustainable program.  The camp won’t be happening again this summer, or ever after that.

I cannot say that I was surprised by the news.  It has been a long time in coming.

But still, it was something wonderful that I loved, and now it is gone.  Like a magical city in a glass, I would have loved to somehow preserve all that made it lovely and special and precious forever.  But that is not how life goes, and so it remains for us who loved it to preserve it as best we can in memory.  If there is some kind of afterlife in which I am allowed to bring a few cherished glimmers of the one I have lived, I will wrap that place in the tissue paper of my soul and hold onto it for eternity.

In all the world, it was the place I loved best.

So, tell me about somewhere beautiful.

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76 thoughts on “Tuesday questions, Ecclesiastes 3:4 edition

  1. I’m sorry that the place is having funding troubles. It seems like all the good places in the world are like that.

    There are lots of beautiful places in the world. I love browsing bookstores like the Strand and Powell’s on a rainy day.

    I think the Harvey Theatre at BAM is beautiful. Anyplace where art exists or takes place is beautiful.

    I think the library at Vassar is beautiful. The Hudson Valley in the fall is beautiful. So are trainrides from New York to Boston and passing all those old Industrial towns.


    • So are trainrides from New York to Boston and passing all those old Industrial towns.

      So long as you don’t get off the train until NYC or Boston, because those old industrial towns you are thankfully passing are real s**tholes, amirite? ;-)


      • My first encounter with contemporary hipsterdom was riding through one of the poorest neighborhoods in Austin with new grad student whose parents are multi-millionaires. He was really excited, and kept saying, “This neighborhood has so much color.” I wanted to slap him on the ear more each time he said it, because lord knows he wasn’t about to suggest we get out there, nor would he have any interest in talking to the people who lived among the “color.”


      • That reminds me of a class field trip to Chicago, when I attended the small conservative Christian college. As our bus rolled through the north side, a female student suddenly pointed out the window and yelled, “look, a beatnik!”

        And everyone turned to look.


      • Maybe some but not all. I’ve never had a reason to step off the train. Providence is supposed to be a nice town and I’d like to visit. Hartford is not supposed to be a nice town.

        Same for me. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, Brooklyn was largely known as being nothing great or dead and dying depending on the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods like Williamsburg were always known to be the homes of factories and the desperately poor immigrants who worked in those factories. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn took place in Williamsburg, the Chosen took place in Williamsburg, or did Summer in Williamsburg and all are about poor immigrant families (largely.)

        After college, friends said they were looking for apartments in Williamsburg and wanted me to come and hang out. I was a bit shocked that it became a neighborhood for young artsy types.

        Now Williamsburg is one of the most developed and continuing to be developed neighborhoods in New York. There are multi-million dollar condos, stores filled with expensive brands, destination restaurants, tourists, etc.


      • “Providence is supposed to be a nice town and I’d like to visit. Hartford is not supposed to be a nice town.”

        Do you see why a comment like that might make people think of you as a Snobby McSnobberson?


      • aw, don’t turn this into a “pile on ND” thread, I was just teasing him. I know exactly what he meant, and decay *can* be beautiful, and some places ARE s**tholes (though I have no opinion on Hartford).


      • oi.
        I might have mentioned I know a few folks from small towns.
        At least your bus trips to NYC (or similar) didn’t have 18yrolds saying:
        “there are real black folks here!”


      • The part of Austin we were in that day was a ____hole, as I suspect anyone who lived there would have told you.

        The fringes of it are being thoroughly gentrified now.


      • Kazzy,
        I tend not to return to places that have caltrops laid out on main streets.
        Am I a snob?
        Also, I tend to think twice before visiting places that I might consider carrying
        a personal explosive for protection.


      • I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. What types of places do you like to visit?

        All I really took ND as saying was that one town was nice to visit and one wasn’t. I think Montreal is a nice place to visit, but I’m less enthused about Trois Rivieres or Gatineau. I don’t think that makes me snobby. Certainly, a snob could (and likely would) hold that view, but that view, in and of itself, isn’t sufficient to determine snobbery.

        So I’m not totally disagreeing with you; I’m just not totally agreeing with you, either.

        Also, note that I do not know enough about the towns in question to make judgements on them, but I will throw this in:


      • Chris,
        Want an invite to some of these places? ;-P
        (caltrops is the wrong word, too, drat it all. meant nails sticking out of boards, deliberately placed to pop tires in middle of streets. anyone know the name for that?)


      • There’s a few places in Hartford that are worth visiting, most notably the Wadsworth. But, I have to admit, there is a large portion of the city where it’s just sheit.

        Downtown Providence by the mall and the riverwalk areas are nice to visit, for example.

        There’s a lot to see along the coast of CT/RI, Mystic Village, Newport Mansions.. etc.

        Some of it’s nice.. some of it’s not so nice.


      • First off, sometimes life demands that we spend time in places we might not otherwise want to. I spent several nights in Hartford recently visiting a relative of Zazzy’s in a hospital there. I didn’t see much of the city — our focus was on her relative (who ultimately died) and supporting the family — but I was there. Now, if one is able to live his life in such a way that life never demands them going to a place that is “not supposed to be nice”, but I’d venture to guess that such people probably map fairly closely with the people who live lives we might describe as snotty or some other such thing.

        That said, what does it mean for a place to be “nice” or “not nice”? used that language as if there was a universal understanding of what a “not nice” place is, which I find a little problematic.

        Lastly, I don’t think his comment necessarily implies overt snobbishness. Rather, I know he has been concerned about developing that reputation, and I think comments like that might contribute to it.


      • those are all fair points.

        I may have misread you at first. Pointing out to ND that his comment could be read as being snobbish is true and perhaps useful for him. If that’s all we’re getting at, then I’ll rescind my objection. I really didn’t mean for this to become a big conversation.


      • Dude… this is OT… EVERYthing is a big conversation. I was trying to offer ND a bit of feedback and an opportunity for reflection. I think we are all well-served when someone can offer us that.


  2. Argh. If I were a super rich, I would buy the damned camp right now and put it on forever, just on the strength of your description, because I can’t think of many better ways to spend money.

    Unfortunately I am not super rich, so all I can say is that I’m glad you had the camp, I’m glad the camp had you, and I’m glad we have you to tell us about it.


  3. “So, tell me about somewhere beautiful.”

    Anywhere where exchanges like the following can happen:

    Student #1: Why do you have hairs in your nose?
    Teacher: Everyone has hairs in their nose.
    STudent #2: Not me! I have boogers.


  4. For me it’s natural places. There are two state parks in Indiana that are full of sandstone gullies (they’re on the old bed of ancestral Lake Michigan, in west-central Indiana). They’re always cool in temperature, and support flora that otherwise disappeared as the region warmed thousands of years ago. Here’s a pic my brother took.

    Muir Woods is another such place. The trick for both is managing to get there when they’re not crowded.


    • This seems like a relevant bit of verse:

      Though nothing can bring back the hour
      Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
      We will grieve not, rather find
      Strength in what remains behind;
      In the primal sympathy
      Which having been must ever be;
      In the soothing thoughts that spring
      Out of human suffering;
      In the faith that looks through death,
      In years that bring the philosophic mind.-Williams Wordsworth


    • Mine would be outdoors, too. Either the woods around the house where I grew up, or Savage Gulf (scroll through those… I mean, seriously).

      Oddly, one of my favorite memories of Savage Gulf is hiking up one one the steep trails in a nasty thunderstorm.

      This was pre-internet, and the forecast was for sunny with temperatures in the mid to upper-90s, so most of us weren’t prepared for wet (except maybe a disposable rain parka). Hot and sunny is what we had for about the first 45 minutes, but once the weather had gotten us right where it wanted us — a couple miles up the trail with full packs — the skies opened up and it rained so hard that the trail turned into a creek running downhill while we trudged up it.

      There are points on the trail where you have to crawl up steep embankments, which were all mud by the time we reached them, with water flowing down them like a waterfall. We’d make it two thirds of the way up, and then slide back down to the bottom, over and over. Once we’d finished the 7 or so mile trail, our campsite was basically a mud pit.

      Sounds miserable, right? We had a blast, even though we were all covered in mud from head to toe, and everything we’d brought with us was soaked. Most of us had hammocks, so we didn’t have to sleep on the wet ground, and the smells and sounds of deep woods after a hard rain are a wonderful.

      When I got up the next morning, I walked a little ways from the campsite to a cliff overlooking a deep ravine, and beneath me, beneath me, was a red tail hawk riding a thermal.

      I honestly don’t remember most of the hike back, which is shorter and flatter, but I remember that when we were most of the way, we found a small cave that was basically a hole in the ground. When you climbed down, there was a large chamber with stalagmites and stalactites. It was pitch dark down there, and the entrance was curved so that, if you didn’t pay close attention, you wouldn’t be able to see where the entrance was from inside.

      That place is magical.


      • Fall’s probably best, but obviously that won’t work for you and me. But I’m going to keep that place in mind. Probably not this summer, what with a trip to visit colleges with daughter #1, but we’ll see.


      • My brother-in-law has been trying to get me to head out there with him for camping and fishing for a few years now. I haven’t largely because our schedules just haven’t been in sync, and my travel budget is somewhat limited.

        It’s my understanding that there are eagles out there now, too (the last time I went camping there, the eagle population was just beginning to move out of West Tennessee), so I’m really looking forward to seeing one of those flying beneath me.


  5. New Mexico. Eagles, wolves, hummingbirds, dinosaur bones sticking out of the rocks. Seasons pile up and take turns, sometimes it is nice to be reminded constantly. Hard not to, the old Trail of Tears is the arroyo in the front yard, and human bones wash up after the rains.
    One could always visit a Pueblo, or an old Spanish church, for those bones. Kind of hard to know what year it is, in some places. We dug up a mastodon, and some camels, and some Megaladon teeth, back in the day.


  6. i liked gowanus (outside of the hideous smell of the canal) in the early 2000s – late at night, walking past empty and decaying buildings, listening to great music or just enjoying the emptiness. quiet, beautiful, horrible, etc.


  7. The outdoor Lowell Davies stage at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, the instant before the actors come on stage for a Shakespeare play.

    [I’m terribly shy, and I mostly hate going to parties. But theater … good theater is a great joy.]


  8. Back when I worked for a dot-com, at one point I had to travel to New York and help shut down the New York office, because I was the only guy on staff that knew anything about the phone equipment.

    I spent a few days there. For a span of several hours, I sat on top of the Empire State Building and thought, “Holy crap, I’m standing on top of a man-made mountain in the middle of a freakin’ island”.

    That night, I called my now-wife from the roof of the observation deck on the World Trade Center and said, “There’s something about being up here in the dark where you can see the Statue of Liberty and the city under lights…”

    They were both pretty magical moments I would like to share. One I can’t.


  9. Outside of Auckland harbor, In the middle of a vineyard on the top of a hill on an island in the middle of a bay, there is a restaurant. That restaurant has floor to ceiling windows. And so, you can sit there for hours and hours (we were there for three, I think?), and stare out at the sky and the water and the various other islands and the surrounding vineyard with all its vines and palm trees, while very nice people bring you delicious foods.

    It helps that to get there you have to take first a ferry and then a series of windy island roads. That bit made me homesick for my own island, so I was more than ready to do some serious staring off a hill.


    • Outside of Auckland harbor, In the middle of a vineyard on the top of a hill on an island in the middle of a bay,

      It takes a lot of prepositions to create a magical place! I’m only half-kidding, actually. And the picture does make it look awesome. I love places that are on the water.

      And congrats on nearing the finish line. We’re all standing and applauding.


  10. A Montessori school. A place where children self-direct to learn concepts traditional schools deem too complex for their age, like multiplication or chemistry, without effort or tedium, but full of joy and play.


      • To be fair, there are at least two main streams of Montessori (plus numerous variations on themes), so talking about “Montessori schools” is about as useful as talking about “progressive schools”, “private schools”, “libertarians”, “liberals” or any other grand category.

        Consequently, I would suggest that Russell’s “mixed feelings” are an appropriate response.


      • Whatever the merits of Montessori education in whatever permutation it might be found — and my experiences with it have been uniformly positive — no offense was intended to or anyone else.


      • First, absolutely zero offense taken.

        There are parts of Montessori I love. There are parts I loathe. There are parts in between. I tend to bristle when I hear Montessori discussed only because there are a number of Montessori zealots out there.

        I will say that I loved reading Maria’s writings… few people spoke of children with greater respect than she. I just think the practice she inspired has its faults (as all practices do). And the things she de-emphasized — namely social skills/learning and open-ended use of materials — are things I highly value. So it is a bit of mismatched parts between her and I as well.

        But, yes, her method employs a good deal of constructivism and I’m a pretty hard core Vygotskyian.


      • It’s just way too Little-House-on-the-Prairie for me. It is one of those things where you read the ideals they espouse and think, “That sounds really nice,” and then you get into the details of it and suddenly think, “Woh.”

        The other thing is that because of some of the more superficial features of it (e.g., handmade toys, knitting curriculum, demonizing modernity), it draws a particularly crazy batch of people to it, thus compounding the wackiness of the whole enterprise.


      • In a way, the “name brand” philosophies of education are always going to catch a hard break. They are easier targets because they are generally more ubiquitous and/or easy to identify. You can find websites explaining the Montessori method and then other websites decrying it. You won’t find that for Kazzy’s approach… thought a few more years in the same spot and the latter may begin to pop up.

        And many (not all) of them required a rather strict adherence to dogma, which tends to be problematic in any application. While my school has a mission and broader philosophy, we retain a ton of freedom in our individual classrooms (this varies from school to school). So I can take a good piece of Montessori and a good piece of Waldforf and blend them with good pieces from other philosophies/curricula, allowing the strengths of one to compensate for the weaknesses of the other. Conversely, a Montessori-certified school has to meet some pretty strict criteria.


      • Oh… and another complaint I have about Montessori in general (and most educational approaches in general)…

        They tend to assume that their method is the one true way. This leads them to think that children who struggle in their environment are the problem rather than the method. The method simply can’t be wrong. It must be the child. That really, really bothers me. Montessori works *great* for some kids. It is an absolutely terrible environment for others. The latter — and their parents — should not be made to feel deficient because they were not a good fit. Unfortunately, that tends to happen.


      • @kazzy

        your kid will learn how to knit with hand-carded wool, but not to read.


        I’ve been kind of circumspect about how much information I put out there about myself, but let’s just say I’m intimately familiar with at least one Waldorf School. Graduates of said school have gone on to (or been admitted to) some of the finest higher education institutions in the country including: Harvard, Cooper Union, Hopkins, Columbia, Vassar, Duke, Swarthmore, Wesleyan, Wellesley, Amherst… I could go on.

        I’m not even sure I can process the breadth of the claim your kid will not know how to read, or “straight batshit crazy”. There all sorts of positives and negatives about Waldorf education, but instead of you know, just dumping all over these statements, as there’s usually a pretty high level of constructive dialogue here, even if everyone doesn’t end up agreeing, I’ll ask a question. What in particular did you learn about, see, encounter, that gave you those impressions?

        I’m not about to launch into some big defense, but I just want to be able to point some of my friends to this thread in future. (Especially the PhD, MA, MS, having ones.)


      • They tend to assume that their method is the one true way. This leads them to think that children who struggle in their environment are the problem rather than the method. The method simply can’t be wrong. It must be the child.


        Oh, I admit that my comment is offering a very reductive view of Waldorf, and hardly describes everything about it. And of course people who go to Waldorf are no less likely to thrive academically than anyone else. I just meant that if you’re a reading, writing, ‘rithmatic kind of person, you may find the Waldorf emphases unusual.


      • It does not surprise me that you know successful people who have come out of a Waldorf School. Damn near every system has its merits and students who will thrive in it.

        It is also important to recognize that Waldorf Schools are independent schools, meaning parents take the time to find, research, apply, and fund them. That level of involvement generally puts their child ahead of the curve as it is. Parental involvement and its impact on educational outcomes cannot be overstated.

        Furthermore, Waldforf is one of the more “out there” approaches, meaning the parents who take advantage of it are probably even more intensely involved in the education of their children. Another reason why you might see highly successful people come out of the program for reasons unrelated to the program itself.

        Mind you, these factors cloud any comparison between schools that by definition require greater parental involvement just to get into the car. Charters-to-public, charters-to-private, public-to-private, etc. are never apples-to-apples comparisons to comparing output is ill advised.

        Lastly, my description of it a “batshit crazy” was needlessly antagonistic. Some of my objections are steeped in pedagogy and practice. The “crazier” parts are generally more aesthetic: they do have a knitting curriculum in 1st grade; they do emphasize handmade toys that are relatively dour in appearance; they publicly advocate for limited exposure to technology. It has a very “Little House on the Prairie” feel to it. And while that may be good, bad, or relatively neutral to educational outcomes, it just personally gives me the heebie-jeebies.


      • I’d think that the motivated parents would be critical. As well as staff. That’s why I have concerns with scalability. You can argue “With those kinds of parents and resources, though, they’d be a success under any model” (sometimes said with perhaps the implication that they’d be even more successful under the traditional model). Which could be true as I don’t know what kind of controls the research puts on such things. I think I look longingly at the model, despite it going against nearly every grain in my constitutional fiber, because it does look like a more enriching process than the standard one I went through.


  11. Imagine being able to experience five unique ecosystems in a one-day, 2000-meter climb: tropical, subtropical, temperate, sub-arctic, and alpine. My place is a remarkably remote and tiny island in the Pacific, that can only be accessed by boat. When I visited with my then girlfriend now wife, there was a horrible storm while we were at sea, and we had to hold on for dear life.

    Beaches and waterfalls dominate the coast; flora and palm trees the subtropical lowlands; the temperate zone is marked by giant, 10,000-year-old trees – some of the world’s largest – that only exist there in that one place, a primeval rainforest; the subarctic highlands consist of frigid moors and coniferous forest; and the alpine peaks are snow-capped and devoid of vegetation.

    The animals have never learned to fear humans. The people living there are the descendants of refuges from a great civil war fought 1200 years ago. I have never experienced a more peaceful or interesting place.


  12. Standing on a bluff overlooking the vast eastern Montana prairie. True to the state slogan, I can’t quite see where the horizon joins the sky to the land. It’s a sunny, breezy day. My aunt points down to the stones beneath my feet. Fifty years earlier, my late mother’s high school boyfriend had carved the rock. Though slightly worn, I could still see their initials enclosed by the valentine heart.

    It’s not and can’t be my home. But I am of that place.


  13. I don’t get to travel as much as I like, but when I was in Balize there was a bar out on the water we went to. It was what you might see in a typical island getaway photo, but being there with my friends, drinking, laughing… it was beautiful.


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