It is impossible to avoid the night stars at Camp Orkila. Save for the few buildings hidden amidst the furrow of trees, the darkness is all but illuminated by the endless rows of twinkling dots. Nearly 100 miles away from the nearest metropolitan city, this was how powerful nature is when it is presented in its most authentic form.
I frequently encouraged my campers – especially those who were homesick – to stare at the sky right before they went to bed. They were mesmerizing, sure, but the thing I learned about stars and constellations is that they are always the same ones, no matter where you are looking from. As my logic puts it, if your parents could see the sky right now, they are staring at the same thing you’re looking at. And that reassurance that our world was just a little bit smaller would be more than enough to get them through the night.
I used that tactic for three consecutive sessions of summer camp until it hit a brick wall in the form of an eight-year-old boy. Sam’s enthusiasm for every running activity available was only mitigated by his continued instance on asking whether or not he could see his mom tomorrow, even when we explicitly told him that the chances are unlikely.
Procedures for sending a kid home was difficult, expensive and an ultimatum – processes that the mind of a third grader is incapable of understanding. And in Sam’s simplistic innocence, I came to realize that his struggles ran deeper than having never stayed at an overnight camp before. The medical forms listed the common maintenance issues that most children face, such as ADHD or bedwetting. These were things that we were trained to handle.
And then there was the mention that his father died when he was in first grade.
When I think back and see myself surrounded by kids, be it in the classroom or in a summer camp, I always wonder what kind of role I take on. Am I the apparent of image a father as female teachers are to mothers? What will the children learn from me? What will they see? What do they see? These are the questions I ask as I gently wake Sam up in the morning rolling him from side to side on his sleeping bag, when a camper and I exchange dodge balls in Matrix-esque motion, when we share inside jokes that girls would never understand. In a sense, I knew for most of those kids these experiences were few and sporadic, which is in turn why I find my work to be invaluable. Which is why I took it upon myself to take kids like Sam stargazing.
He reacted in the way others before him did – with a quiet nod before going off to bed. But then Sam never stopped looking at the skies. I’d catch him peering over the balcony, aimlessly lost at the world above him. He was hesitant, almost resistant to the idea of sharing his personal wonder with anyone else.
He finally motioned me over one night, when the weather was warm enough for us to camp outside. I lay next to his sleeping bag and prepared for the worst, readying up another excuse for why he couldn’t go home tomorrow.
“Hey bud,” I gave a small smile. “How’s it going?”
“Not much,” He whispered, eyes still gazing at the sky. To my surprise, they’re not wet. “Do wormholes exist?”
“Probably.” I replied with curiosity and shock as I quickly tried to remember the last sci-
fi material that immersed itself in space-time theories. “You know, they say if you enter a wormhole you can to travel to anywhere in time.”
“Anywhere in time, huh?”
“Yeah, and space too. Where would you like to go?”
He paused. “I think I would go back to two years ago, on Father’s Day.”
I could see him tracing the stars with his index finger. I wonder what he was trying to see.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“So I could tell my dad ‘Happy Father’s Day!’ before he left.”