When I was young, I was scared. I was the most worried, timid, fearful child you’d ever met. I hated sleep overs, I hated being left at school, I had one close friend from Kindergarten through fifth grade or so, but we didn’t even go to the same school. When my nanny (yes nanny – that’s what she preferred we call her, she was our second Mom…it’s a thing.) would drop me off at Kindergarten she would get me playing with things and occupied then she would quietly slip away. Once I realized she had left I would cry, and cry and cry until class formally started.
I couldn’t just be with other kids, I needed a structure around my interactions. I wasn’t the kid that just went up to others and said “let’s play” I was the kid that sat alone in the corner of the playground day dreaming, drawing in the dirt, being alone.
When I was at home or with my brother or family I was different. I was loud and bossy and excited to play and be outside and do all those fun childhood things. But you get me in a group of kids or in a place where I had to be social and nope, shut down. I would just quit life. I was so scared of being made fun of or laughed at and that I didn’t know the right thing to say or do.
There was one place in the world where I was happy, where I came out of my shell. Where even as a surly, scared pre-teen who preferred sleeping the day away (yes I was a fear-filled kid well into middle school) I would get up at the crack of dawn and go walk the pasture with the horses, and stare at the wilderness just an arms reach away. Wyoming is where I was myself, the girl I was in that valley was who I always knew I was supposed to be but for some reason I could never bring her back east across the Mississippi.
I went to a camp, a camp that my grandfather first worked at in the 1940’s. This camp, it made me who I am today. I could tell hundreds of stories of backpacking and horse pack trips into the woods that carved me into the woman I am.
But there’s one story, one sentence, that did it. That cemented me. I’ve leaned on this sentence ever since it was spoken to me that last year as a Trailblazer, by my counselor. I would say this to myself on those days when I felt like the shy little girl, I still say it to myself when I can feel the fear creeping along the edges of my mind.
Jeni had been my counselor all four years, she saw me grow and face challenges, she also saw me get in my own way. She knew I could have had a bigger camp experience had I trusted in it and in myself. Even though she saw me half ass part of my camp experience, something I still regret from time to time (but I know I shouldn’t because I’m still me, and I’m still here and regret solves nothing), she stood by me and supported me.
The last night of camp, she took each of us girls aside and gave us something and took time to just have a private moment of reflection on our personal camp experience. To me it meant everything, I’m sure it did for all of us. She took me aside, and gave me this red scarf that a friend of hers had given her. From some far off land, that I can’t remember now. Jeni looked at me and said she didn’t want me to hide from life, she wanted me to be in it. She wanted to see me keep growing and keep pushing myself. She looked me dead in the eye and she said: “Whitney, I want you to suck the marrow out of life.”
That sentence it cut right to my core. That day with those few words I was shook awake. In every thing I’ve done since I’ve leaned on those words. When I’m nervous about applying for a job that I don’t think I’m qualified for, or unsure if I should try to pitch creating my own study abroad program in Uganda to my university, or I’m not quite sure if I want to join my cousin for her sky diving adventure I think back to that sentence. Without fail a smile creeps across my face and I remember that yes, yes in fact I do want these things. Even more than wanting these things I can do these things. I have the power to create the life that I want; to live big.
It’s gotten so ingrained in me now that I feel more comfortable living in my marrow-sucking ways then in a safe box. In all honestly, its part of what motivated me ending my biggest relationship. Because with this lifestyle, you need someone who is right there with you. Who can keep up, who can run ahead and tell you what the view is like.
Thank you, Jeni. For saying one small sentence that has lead to a lifetime of fulfillment, a lifetime of adventure, a lifetime of experience. I owe you so much, I hope that I get to effect someone’s life as much as you have mine. With that one short sentence.