Finding an old friend brings joy

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campfire

“Friendship is a reunion of souls from a time when nothing yet was, nor imagined to be. A merger of two familiar flames — born not from new sparks thrown — but from old embers rekindled by some inexplicable knowing in our hearts, that we were acquainted before.”

— S. Orgunwall

I was 10, a suitcase packed and placed in the trunk of our car, my heart pounding with that inexplicable mix of excitement and trepidation. I was finally going away to church camp like my big sisters before me.

This experience was markedly different for a farm kid whose family never traveled. We were a tight-knit group who worked and played together, so leaving my family for a full week was brand new, and I felt a tug of ambivalence as we said our goodbyes.

Camp

I landed in Cabin 4 at Camp Otyokwah, a small, no-frills structure with bunks for sleeping. We tucked our suitcases under the bottom bunks, listened to the rules and set out to learn our way around the heavily wooded campground.

This Christian camp was truly an escape from all worldly things, with a long hike up Vesper Hill every evening after a day filled with Bible classes, crafts, outdoor group fun and lots of swimming in the pond in the center of the campground. From the very first day, I became fast friends with a girl in my cabin, and Kindra and I were inseparable.

Instant friendship

It was so long ago that I can’t explain the spark that bonded us, but the friendship was immediate. It felt as if we had known each other for a lifetime.

It was an incredible, inspiring week. Aside from the usual silliness when young boys and girls gather, there was depth of communion, a celebration of fellowship and new friendships woven throughout long days of Bible study.

On stormy nights, our hike was delayed for another day, and the large group of kids from all over Ohio met in the chapel. Our voices lifted to the rafters as we sang hymns and recited scripture together.

Back in the humble little cabin at day’s end, our group of a dozen girls whispered late into the night, and friendships that were born grew, deep and wide, as the title of the song goes that we sang about our shared faith at camp.

Lost touch

At the end of that week, Kindra and I exchanged addresses, already looking forward to the next summer, counting down the months when we could relive the life-changing experience on that lovely campground. Many times over the years I have wondered where life had taken my dear camp friend.

We wrote letters for a long time, but busy lives meant we lost our long-distance connection.

When Facebook came to be, I remember searching for Kindra with no luck. I felt it likely her last name had changed through marriage, and I gave up finding her again, but never stopped thinking of her from time to time.

Reconnected

One recent day, I received a message through Facebook from someone searching for a girl she had gone to church camp with a long, long time ago. Did I happen to have gone to Camp Otyokwah? A rush of pure joy washed over me. My soul danced with the gift of reconnection with someone I had never stopped missing.

Kindra and I have had long chats, catching up and looking forward to reuniting in person. I envision meeting for a picnic at our old camp where faith and friendship grew, stomping through those areas we hiked so many times that the footfalls over exposed tree roots up and down to the showers became ingrained in us, like the rooms of a house.

Kindra went on to become a successful entrepreneur. I loved hearing that she had owned her own business, sold it with encouragement from her husband when an offer came her way, became a designer for a contractor, managed a golf course and restaurant. Now retired, she and her husband spend much of their time in Florida.

Albert Schweitzer once wrote, “We should be thankful for those people in our life who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Life is filled with friendship, loss and acceptance. It is a gift beyond measure when an unexpected reunion comes our way. In this crazy, often lonely world, we are lucky to nurture connections to friends, both old and new, some of which are fleeting, and others that magically etch a forever place, built with bonds that run deep and wide.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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