Refections from The Shores | Ezra Wallach’s Saturday Sermon
Dear Kawaga Family,
I’m very happy to share with you yesterday’s Saturday morning’s sermon given by Ezra Wallach. Ezra spent four years as a camper at Kawaga but atypically didn’t return either as an older camper or a junior counselor. So, we’re thrilled that Ezra is with us this summer, marking his first as a counselor. Ezra grew up in Wilmette Illinois, went to college in Colorado, and now lives in California.
Counselors’ sermons give you greater perspective into not only this unique summer, but also how young men who grew up at Kawaga now think and feel about camp and life. Ezra shares his candid thoughts, including some doubts, on joining us for this special summer.
Enjoy the read.
Shabbat Shalom, everyone.
I’m here today because I want to share with you something I’ve been thinking about for the last few days. Let’s start with a moment. It was Wednesday of this past week and I was walking back down the road to my cabin after taking a shower following the evening program. I saw campers walking in and out of their cabins, each with huge smiles. In the backdrop was the wispy cloud covered blue and orange sunset above Miracle Dock. Each cabin I saw represented a different beautiful moment, all within my sight, and the beauty of this land was not too far out of focus either. A feeling came over me that seemed as though it could never be topped.
This happiness was the culmination of many things. This year is my return to camp after a five-year hiatus. I had many emotions about the upcoming summer, as I was so looking forward to it. But I also felt a bit of doubt. Should I be here? Is this still where I belong? Am I fit to be a counselor?
These questions lingered until that moment, when I felt as though there were no possible place other than this in the world that I should be. So then I began to think about the future, as most people do when they realize that there is nothing to change about the present.
In January, when I signed up with Ty to be here this summer, I was planning for a “one-and-done” — a sense of closure. But now that I’m here, I can’t help but think about whether this summer would be really my last, whether these next five weeks would be it for me.
I felt a sharp pain, agony. This is the feeling I want to talk to you all about today.
“Agony” is defined as the suffering that precedes death. It’s the feeling we all get right before a break-up, a graduation, a forced move-out of college because of a pandemic, and most notably the end-of-summer banquet. This feeling often occurs closer to the end of something, yet glimpses of it are often felt farther from the finish line, when there is a realization of the transience of something great. For me, I felt it within the first week of camp.
This word “agony” comes from the Greek word agon, which for the Ancient Greeks meant a public gathering. “Agony” became known as the pain felt by competitors when they lost at one of these festivals. Our word “agony” thus comes in its essence from a happy celebration—a festival.
What I’ve learned in the past year or so, as I’ve gone through a few endings and goodbyes, is that this agony is not only inescapable, but necessary.
I’d like to do a little experiment with everyone. Close your eyes and imagine if life at camp went on for eternity. After a couple of years, it is likely that some of the things that make camp so special are now quite boring. Evening programs are too often repeated; Sachem is made dozens of times by everybody; and skiing miracles are no longer quite as exciting. After another few years, there isn’t any triumph in winning Leagues; there are no original cheers; and it feels like nothing new ever happens.
Now if everyone could open up their eyes and begin to look out around you at the people and places that you see. Look at the water you want to jump into and the basketball court and the softball field you want to play on. Look at the people in your pod and outside of your pod. Look at all the relationships you want to deepen, old friends or new faces you want to connect with but haven’t had a chance to yet, and possible beef you want to squash.
There’s this song I love by The Talking Heads called “Heaven.” It’s main lyric is: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” Our common conception of heaven is that it is a place where there is no death, no ending. But, in reality, no ending means eternity, and eternity means that things will begin to happen so many times that it begins to be as though nothing truly new ever happens.
These people and places that surround you are so special almost only because they are here for a limited period of time.
And so, I like to think that right here, this place right now, is the real heaven. This day, the fourth of July, is the festival. This unusual summer is the festival. This life — and our growth at Kawaga — is the festival.
Yes, we come here to escape the worries and hardships of the real world, but in many ways, this is as real and pure as this world and life itself can possibly get.
So, with that said, let’s all enjoy this summer and this journey together for as long as it lasts, and cry together when it’s over. Hopefully though, when we do so, we’ll know deep down that it truly couldn’t have been any other way.