All right, friends, buckle up for story time.
Back when I was in eighth grade (and attending a Catholic elementary school, bear in mind) we had a class retreat to a place called Mount Mary. Mount Mary is a Christian retreat run by nuns, and if I’m remembering correctly, it used to be a private girls-only school before it became a retreat. It’s a gorgeous, remote property with beautiful forested land. Our retreat was only for a few days and a couple nights, but those days started early and were packed with all sorts of lovely activities.
I did not at all want to go to Mount Mary, but it was the kind of thing where you all but had to go, plus all my friends were going, so off I went. We had to do so many team-building activities, such as Chuck the Chicken and some sort of game that was about economics that I can’t really remember(?), and as someone who doesn’t really like being in a team and also doesn’t really like activities, it was a drag. Add in the fact that we were woken up at the buttcrack of dawn by music BLARING through speakers directly into our rooms (I didn’t much enjoy being deafened by Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA at 7am), plus having to put on plays for our peers after every meal, plus having to share a room with half a dozen giggling girls (at least I was with my friends), and you’ve basically described my version of a highly effective form of torture.
I mean sure, it wasn’t all terrible. We did go on some pretty extensive hikes through the forest that I quite enjoyed, and we did play a massive game of Survivor where I was a prey animal and survived all the way to the end, which was so friggin’ fun.
But because it was the kind of place that encouraged team-building and peer relations, we were often divided into groups where we weren’t with our friends and were forced to work with people we might not have necessarily liked. That meant that everybody got to know everybody else probably better than we perhaps wanted to. Especially me, who’s not really a “friendly” or “social” person.
Let me introduce you to the guy in the picture here. His name is Ryan, and I never talked to him all that much in elementary school. He was definitely a class clown type character, but he was also a pretty harmless guy, and him and I got seated at the same lunch table together during the retreat. And for some reason he kind of fixated on me in a way I didn’t expect.
During one of our first meals, he made a big show of pouring me a glass of water and serving me like a waiter, and spent the rest of the retreat intermittently showering me with attention and pretending we were buddy-buddy. It was ridiculous and made me laugh (and made me feel kind of good to be entirely honest, because he was actually being nice and thoughtful) and it made the horrible, torturous retreat a little more bearable. At one point he even photobombed a picture of me and my friend, making it look like he was meant to be in the photo in the first place. His comic relief was small and silly and unexpected, but it’s something I remember fondly to this day.
Then there was one day when the teachers released us in this big field with a massive hill and told us we could roll down it and the whole place erupted into giggling, tumbling, frolicking chaos. It was hard to see any sort of friend groups in those pictures because everyone was just scattered everywhere making fools of ourselves and having a fantastic time. Everyone was there and it didn’t matter who liked who.
The second-last picture I have in the Mount Mary album is a picture of me on the bus ride home, sitting next to another guy I never really talked to or considered to be my friend. But there we are, smiling side-by-side, him still wearing his name tag for some reason or another, both of us looking incredibly happy.
I went from not wanting to be there at all to genuinely enjoying the company of the people I was with.
Mount Mary was definitely one of those better-in-hindsight kind of things, and now that I look back at the pictures and all these classmates I haven’t seen in years, I am fondly nostalgic of that retreat. I maybe didn’t particularly like everyone I was with, and I probably still wouldn’t like several of them to this day, but they were people who shared some of the formative years of my life. They were people who rolled down a grassy hill with me and frolicked like happy toddlers. They were people who showered me with silly little gestures of affection and made me feel part of a caring, meaningful group.
I think the good people in your life, no matter who they are or what they mean to you, can form incredible bonds that have lasting impacts even years later. I think they can, if only for a little while, feel like a big family.
And as I’m writing POTS and working on all these character relationships and crafting a little mismatched family, I can’t help but think of the people who did the same for me.
I’m so glad that some of those people are still close friends now.
I would be so lost without them.