My kids are living their best lives at summer camp for the next three weeks. My husband Ben attended this same camp as a child, and we’ve had a camper there for ten years running now. They absolutely love their time at camp because they can just be themselves and have fun. But, I didn’t know that children could love camp the way they do until I experienced it through them. When I was a kid, I didn’t go to summer camp like the one Ben and the kids attend. I only went to “nerd camps” in high school as my husband dubbed my academic camps. I was a homebody and didn’t want to go away in the summers. I also thought that rich people sent their kids away to summer camp for weeks because they didn’t want them at home. I’m not sure where my belief came from other than perhaps television or movies. I didn’t actually know people who’d go away to camp for weeks at a time, so my assumption remained until I met Ben. He told me how much he loved camp but really my misperception only fully dissipated when I realized that the weeks at camp are the happiest of my kids’ whole year.
This illusion about camp was not the first time I’d found myself believing something that was inaccurate or incomplete. When I was a freshman in college, I told my professor that I was going to write my paper on how the feminist movement had accomplished its goals because everything was equal now. Thankfully, she didn’t laugh in my face but told me to do my research and let her know what I thought. I was incensed when I learned that women were paid much less than men for the same jobs and other stark inequalities. Let’s just say my research paper was much different than what I’d initially imagined. A similar situation unfolded in my African American Politics class later in college. I heard a young Black man describe how he’d been followed around a store for no reason other than the clerk’s unfounded fear he would shoplift. I’d grown up going to school with children of color, but I’d never heard them talk about how people treated them based on the color of their skin. I’d never asked. I didn’t even know to ask. But in that class, that day, my eyes and ears were opened. And they can’t be closed again.
In law school, I met students who were openly part of the LGBTQ+ community. In college, there were rumors about some people being gay or lesbian, but in a southern school thirty years ago, LGBTQ+ students lived in the closet, not freely, not as themselves. In addition to meeting friends who were in the LGBTQ+ community at school and in the workplace, Ben and I started attending a Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and I found out that the Bible was not as black and white as I’d thought about certain subjects either. I never knew churches could be welcoming and affirming before then and had no clue there were several other progressive denominations that were aligned. Now, we still belong to the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and our local church is welcoming and affirming. We won’t settle for less.
When we listen to and ask questions about others’ experiences, we leave room for understanding and growth. We cannot assume we know what other people go through. We can change based on what we learn. We need not cling to beliefs we’ve held for a long time if we find those beliefs are inaccurate. Being open to others, allowing them to tell their truths, and truly listening, demonstrates love, our own and God’s.