Sometime in the summer of 2006, I was at family camp with my parents and my brother. My dad was the pastor for that week, and we had all gone with him. This is one of those weird memories I have where I remember feeling happy, but also knowing that feeling wouldn't last forever. I don't know if all kids with divorced parents felt that way at some point, but I know I had that feeling many times. Over that week, we became acquainted with many of the staff members at the camp. There was one person in particular, who we'll call AH, who I got to know really well, as he was often looking out for me and my brother. He was one of the reasons I wanted to go back the next year so badly, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to. The year after that, however, my bags were packed and I returned to summer camp, this time by myself.
That second summer, on the Saturday, all the campers and staff members went on a hike. As we went along, I slowly began to fall behind. It was then that AH walked back to me and asked how I was doing. I said I okay, but didn't like hiking very much. To keep me distracted, he asked what I was interested in. I said horses at first, but the conversation quickly turned to my love of writing. I said writing made me happy and I wanted to be an author someday. AH turned to me and said I should always pursue what I love, and that he hoped I was published someday.
For the next three years, every time I returned to camp, whether for the summer or outdoor education in fifth grade, AH would be there and would ask about my writing. I'd tell him about all I was doing, and then I'd tell him about how school was going. Coincidentally, those three years were some of the worst for me. Having someone who was genuinely interested in my writing was invaluable to me. Getting the chance to be distracted from the things that were hard and getting to focus on something I loved was important, and AH gave me that opportunity. Every time I'd say goodbye, he would tell me to keep doing what I was doing, and those words always meant a lot to me. They were always short conversations, maybe a couple sentences said each, but they still meant so much to me.
In 2011, AH left the camp to do other things. I remember hearing he'd left to be a teacher, and I remember being absolutely crushed. I returned to camp, but it was always a little different. He'd been the person I went to when I was homesick, and the person I'd talk to about how I was doing in general. Luckily, I found an amazing counselor who I had for two years in a row, but that's a different story for another time. Over the next couple years, I regretted not saying thank you to this person who had been instrumental in my decision to keep writing. You see, writing was the thing that kept me grounded. Life is really good now, but it wasn't always. I went through a lot of really crappy stuff, but through all of it I kept writing. Whether it was stories, poetry, journal entries, or now with this blog, I've written everything down. Writing has, in many ways, kept me as the person I am today. I have a very strong support system at home, and I could write thousands of posts about how my family and friends have helped me through countless experiences, but much of what kept me writing was knowing that there was this person who I'd get to talk to once a year about how it was going. So when he left, I regretted not saying thank you. However, as the years went on I figured he didn't remember me anyway so I gradually forgot about it.
Six years later, at the end of September 2017, I had the chance to go on the Leadership Conference as the Religious Vice President for SA. When I got there, I looked through the pamphlet of names to see who was there as well. As my eyes scanned through the list, they stopped on one name in particular. Here's the thing, I never knew where AH had ended up. It had been six years since he'd worked at the summer camp, and even though I figured he'd become a teacher like I'd heard, I didn't know where. So when I saw his name under one of the many schools I'd almost gone to instead of the one I chose, shocked would be an understatement. One of my best friends from my old school was there, and I pulled her over and quickly told her the whole story. "I really need to say thank you," I said to her. "I'll regret it even more if I don't."
The first night of the leadership conference, I was standing in line for one of the many games (sigh...), and suddenly I was standing next to him, completely by chance. I took a deep breath and said, "This may seem like a strange question, but did you ever work at _____?" He paused and looked at me before saying "Wait, is your last name Eastwood?"
"You used to go all time, sometimes with your parents and brother, right?"
"Yeah. And I wanted to say thank you. I don't know if it was just a passing thought for you or what, but you once told me to pursue writing. Lots of.... stuff happened over the years but I kept writing through it and I wanted to say thank you for being one of the first people to encourage me."
He looked at me and smiled. He asked me how my mom was doing, and said he'd always liked her and hoped she was doing well wherever she was. He asked how my brother was, and when I said he was good, he said he remembered loud noises were always hard for him and hoped he was doing okay. I told him where my dad was and how I was the RVP but it wasn't because I'm a pastor's kid, and he laughed. He asked if I still loved horses, and I said I did even though they scared me sometimes, and he said he remembered I'd loved them when I was little. Then he looked at me and said: "Claira, I remember you, and I remember that conversation. It wasn't a passing thought. It was like I was getting a glimpse into what your life was going to be like, and I knew I had to say something."
I said thank you again, and he gave me a hug before we parted ways and I went over to my group. You should know that during the conversation I was trying to hold back the tears, but a few still managed to escape. And every time I think back on this story, I can't help but cry (so yes, I'm definitely crying while writing this). I was finally able to thank this person who had done so much for me, even if it was as small as telling me to keep writing and then saying hi once a year. Being told that he remembered me, and the small details about my brother meant so much to me, and it still does. It brought back memories from my childhood, some good and some bad. That small conversation where I finally got to say thank you made me remember all he'd done for me in those years between the ages of six and eleven.
There are people who will affect your life in ways you don't even realize until years later. I knew he'd made a difference in my life, but it wasn't until I saw him last month that I realized just how much I appreciated all he'd done. At the end of the weekend, I walked over to him to say thank you once more and he told me to keep doing what I was doing, and said he was thankful I'd stopped to say hi. When you finally get to say thank you, it's a beautiful thing. It's an important thing, and it's a necessary thing. I'm so thankful for all the people in my life who have made me who I am, and I'm especially thankful for all the people who have encouraged my writing. I truly have no idea where I'd be without you.