Tent Revival

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PHOTO: Seth Doyle, Unsplash

We were split into groups on the first day of camping with the Campus Life organization. I was a junior in high school then, a nobody save for my role as editor of our award-winning (since I came on board the previous year) newspaper.

Nobody knew my original dream of becoming an actor. I’d pretend in the safety of my bedroom while the world outside raged on, my parents often bickering in the downstairs kitchen. One night, my mom came at my dad with a knife, slicing into his shoulder, shrieking like a banshee.

I disappeared into the roles I made up (as the young, budding writer I would become instead). I felt beautiful, loved, valued, if only in my mind, if only for a few minutes before mom called me down for dinner, or I had to do my History assignment.

Every so often, we experience a moment so profound, it changes us. If we’re lucky, we experience several in our lifetime.

This was one of those moments, at the second Campus Life camping event I attended by Waimanalo Beach.

Campus Life is a Youth for Christ organization. It thrived in Hawaii in the 1980s. I was a part of it for three years. I attended the banana split parties, the Bible sessions, the Coming to Jesus revivals, and these semi-annual camps.

None of my friends went to this one in Dec., so I was scared shitless to go. I really had nobody to talk to during our off times, save for one or two people from my school who weren’t in my group.

Groups participated in contests: singing, sports, and drama.

I didn’t know I excelled in drama until the final night, when our group performed and would go on to win the entire competition based solely on my performance as Linda, the outcast who begged the most popular girl in school to learn more about Jesus Christ.

I didn’t have much time to work on my character, whatever the fuck that meant. We didn’t even have a script. Our group kind of winged it, agreeing on an outline for improvisation within a certain time frame.

Me and the funny girl came out in the second scene, set in a bowling alley around an imaginary pinball machine. All I remember was her messing up her line, catching herself in between two names, “Cer-Linda.” Then, everything went very, very quiet when I responded.

Truthfully, I blacked out. As we walked over behind the makeshift stage under a tent in the middle of the campground, I thought I heard sniffling.

Then, they called us back “onstage” as a group. When they introduced me as Linda, I heard a roar so loud, it startled me. I looked around, blinking a couple of times, when I saw that they were all looking at me with tears in their eyes, including the jocks, football players who wouldn’t be caught dead showing any emotion. They looked like they wanted to rush over and give me the biggest hug.

We won, of course. These strangers regarded me like a demi-god for a few days after, then they all forgot and I was a nobody again.

Except I’ll never forget that night when I was somebody, anybody, every body, and I made magic happen.

That was the day I discovered my wings.

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