The canyon breeds nostalgia – that knee-jerk reaction where you want to remember something fondly. And let it be that – the knee-jerk, the sudden, a whiff of perfume passing in the wind. Sitting on it any longer reveals the memory behind the nostalgia, and that can be a lot for most to handle.
I had blacked out, yet I remember talking to Steph after leaving the medical cabin. I had been up since four that morning, hiking up a mountain with dozens of teenagers to take in the sunrise. I had gone hypoxic at some point, lost most of my consciousness.
This was on a Friday. Steph said that she hadn’t done that hike yet, and would probably join us the following Friday. By Wednesday she had died. Lifelong issues from seizures had caused her to choke in her sleep. A car clearly labeled with the county Coroner was parked in front of the cabin she shared with four other women. The four were distraught, sitting in their sleeping clothes as the sun crested over the ridge and warmed the canyon for the day.
If you’re lucky, you never need to think about the Chaplain. He is just another guy with a specific set of responsibilities that you never notice when things are going just fine. Maybe he leads a prayer before meals, or he spends his day sweeping the meticulously clean floors of the chapel, so it is ready for whoever comes by.
To have a good Chaplain is to have a person you don’t even realize is one. One who forgoes his priority to a higher deity for the humanity of his peers. Likely, they are someone who is personable and who can give a sense of comfort without having to be overtly comforting. Our Chaplain was the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a car with for any amount of time. Not that his demeanor is particularly preachy. Instead, imagine every joke not landing and a laugh that is forced. Imagine a doctor with no bedside manner, but a penchant for poking and prodding patients.
When someone dies on a Scout Camp, the acting Chaplain is around for all the reasons you would want. That morning, by 6 AM, he was in full uniform and waiting patiently to accept grievances. The four others who woke up to a body of someone they had shared friendly “goodnights” with just hours before was being carefully placed in a bag and wheeled into the back of a van. That morning they were a clan of their own right which was not keen on inviting a man as a source of comfort. Especially a chaplain. Especially our chaplain.
When I last drove through the canyon I couldn’t bring myself to go past the gate. A few yards down the road another gateway was under construction. Large, concrete, unmoving. Standing as a monument to the camp hidden in the forest beyond.