In the summer of 1991, I lived with my folks in Manhattan, Kansas and organized a camp for people of all ages with developmental delays. It was called Camp Discover, and although the name was based on what the campers might discover, I know I made the most beautiful discovery of all.
Her name was Harriet, and no, that’s not a pseudonym. With a name like Harriet, you’ve just got to keep that. On the first day of camp, Harriet bounded into our meeting place, The Girl Scout Little House, wearing a big ole’ floppy sunhat and an ear-to-ear smile that lit up the place. She was in her mid-70’s, but had the mind of a young child. She was older than the other campers by about 60 years, but that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. Harriet loved camp. When I brought out my guitar for a sing-along, she clapped. We lined up to take a nature walk, and she squealed with delight. I announced that it was time to clean up our art supplies, and she hooted. She was joy in culottes. Always.
One morning, I took the campers to Aggieville to enjoy a picnic lunch while listening to the Fort Riley band play some good ole’ gospels. A Fort Riley chaplain had accompanied the group, and he stood toward the side as folks pulled out blankets and chairs and picnic lunches. I helped my campers find spots with their lunches, and everyone settled in well. Then the music started. Harriet recognized the first song, shot up from her spot, ran to within inches of the band, and began to praise God. Loudly. With hand motions. My campers weren’t phased one bit by Harriet’s enthusiasm. After all, she cheered when they arrived at camp each day. Others who didn’t know Harriet watched her, some in awe, others charmed, and some rather bothered by her boisterous enthusiasm for the music. I was just plain worried that someone would try to stop Harriet from being Harriet.
I caught the eye of the Army chaplain, and scurried over to introduce myself and explain my effusive camper to him. I was about to apologize for Harriet’s behavior when he smiled and said, “Beth, she is a joy to watch. And, unless I’m mistaken, Jesus says that we all have to become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It seems to me that Harriet is a whole lot better prepared than you and I are… think of it: We will all need to become like Harriet when our time on earth is done!”
That was over 22 years ago. I lost touch with Harriet soon after camp ended, and I heard that she died a few years later. I have thought about her often, though, and thanked God for the most beautiful discovery I made at Camp Discover. I also smile at the image of her arriving in Heaven, pretty much the same as she was on earth: unabashedly joyful, from the top of her floppy sunhat to the tips of her toes. Joyful. Always joyful. With hand motions.