“Ale mess you Paul”
Those were the four words scribbled across a piece of yellow construction paper that had been folded in half – unevenly – to resemble a card. On the inside were two stick people. One was me, the other was my five-year-old camper.
This was her final thank you and goodbye, which she presented to me on her last day of camp.
That was 2010.
The other night, I made the mistake of trying to fall asleep before 2AM. I even tried to trick myself through the process.
I had fallen asleep on the couch from watching TV, as I do on most nights, and woke up around 1:30AM. I stumbled my way to the washroom and then upstairs to bed, all while keeping one eye shut and the other eye half open.
The worst thing you can do when you’re trying to go back to sleep is open both of your eyes and let light pour into them. So, I thought I was tricking myself into staying about 60% asleep, at least. That way, when I finally reached my bed, I’d still be tired!
The green digits on the clock on my nightstand mocked me as I lay there, wide awake.
So, I did what any person who can’t sleep does – think.
I looked at my bookshelf and thought about the contents of it – mainly the items that represented an accomplishment.
For starters, there are three green ribbons I was given in elementary school. The ribbons say “Future Ace”. They were given out once a month to a few kids in each grade, who the teachers thought were destined for greatness.
Yes, that’s my own definition.
You were only eligible for one Future Ace ribbon each school year. And not everyone got one. What a concept!
That was early 2000s.
Next to those ribbons sit six trophies and a gold medal – all from
putting on tight pants and playing softball for five years. Three trophies are for winning the championship, two of them are for participating (what a concept!), and a Most Improved Player (M.I.P.) award. The gold medal was from winning a tournament.
I’m still bitter about the M.I.P. award. To me, it was the biggest backhanded compliment, and still is.
I still remember the seconds right before my coach announced the winner of the award. I just had this gut feeling that I was going to get it, and for a second I thought, “Cool, I get to go home with two trophies!”
And then that second passed and I thought, “He better not say my name”.
He said my name.
If someone tells you that you are the most improved, that’s just a nice way of saying, “You were awful before, but aren’t anymore.”
I honestly thought I was one of the best players on the team from the beginning of the season through the end. And that’s not me being naive, that’s just me being truthful.
That was 2002.
That was also 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005.
On the top shelf is a picture of me accepting my high school diploma on stage with a teacher and a vice-principal standing next to me.
After the lengthy ceremony, I met up with my family. They told me Michael Jackson died and that there was cheese and crackers in the front foyer. Oh, and they said “congratulations”.
That was 2009.
This next one isn’t really an accomplishment, but I’ll throw it in here.
Next to that photo, is a picture of me with my best friend and a good friend of ours, taken at prom. My prom was the night after graduation. Don’t ask me why.
I recently found out that the three of us all have that photo in our bedrooms somewhere. I thought that funny. Maybe this is an accomplishment?
That was 2009.
On the floor next to my bookshelf is my framed university diploma, still in the same bag it was carried home in three years ago.
Kids, they aren’t lying when they tell you that you get a piece of paper at the end. You get a piece of paper. Protect it how you will.
That was 2013.
And as I went through each item in my head, I found myself bouncing through a time warp with all the memories that were flooding back. Little things and little details that I can still remember.
Like how my Grade 6 teacher gloated that she scored a goal on me during a game of floor hockey, right before she presented me with my Future Ace ribbon.
Like how my best friend and I got caught in the netting at a McDonald’s play place, when we went for lunch during a softball tournament.
Like how ridiculous everyone looked trying to put a graduation hat on their head.
Like how the NHL Draft was the same night as my prom.
Like how there was cheese and crackers waiting for me after my university graduation ceremony, just as there had been four years prior – after my high school graduation.
And I asked myself, are these the accomplishments that I am most proud of in my life?
My answer was: “No, not really. Well, sorta.”
I mean, anyone could have gotten a Future Ace ribbon. Sure, I’m proud of them, but what do they really mean, anyway? Am I in the future yet? Am I an ace yet? How will I know?
When I won my softball championships, I was happy. What kid wouldn’t be happy? But I remember winning my last one. We won by one run and then lined up to shake hands and receive our trophies. There were no hoots and hollers, no one piled on top of each other in jubilation, and no one really celebrated.
We knew we were going to win and we did. It was a very business-like approach for a bunch of 13-year-olds.
Graduating from high school…what did I really do? I showed up, did my homework, and passed every class. Okay.
Prom? I already dismissed this as not really an accomplishment, leave me alone.
My university diploma means a lot to me. It’s the reason why I said, “Well, sorta” above. Because I am proud of it. It represents so many things, I can’t even begin to start listing them. But it sits in a bag. Not even a fancy bag. Just a bag.
So, as I continued to delve way too deep into my thoughts while I lay wide awake on my bed, I started to realize that the things I’m most proud of aren’t necessarily things that I can put on display.
Here are a few:
In Grade 8, we had to do 10 hours of community service. Most students completed their volunteer hours at school doing tasks that didn’t exist until 10 hours of community service was assigned to us.
I did my 10 hours at a local organization, where I wrote tax receipts, made photocopies, sent faxes, and organized an unorganized office among other things.
I continued to volunteer there in high school, when we had to complete 40 hours of community service. I completed just short of 100 hours.
To this day, I am proud of that. It was something different and it wasn’t the easy way out. Plus, I enjoyed it.
That was 2005 & 2006.
I am proud of this blog. I can’t even put into words what it means to me, and many people won’t understand that.
The connections I’ve been able to make with people all over the world is something I could have never imagined. I can be a world traveller without ever leaving my desk chair. Every day I learn something new about a person in a different part of the world. It’s incredible.
Starting this blog was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
That was 2013.
“Are you (camper’s name)?”
“I was your counsellor five years ago and you gave me a card on your last day that said, ‘Ale mess you Paul’.”
“I don’t remember that. I don’t believe you.”
“I kept it. I’ll bring it in tomorrow.”
I brought it in. As soon as the now 10-year-old camper saw the card, she recognized it. She remembered.
“You were trying to write ‘I’ll miss you Paul’ but you didn’t know how to spell back then”, I explained.
I kept that card because it was my first summer at camp. I felt out of my element most of the time and really had no clue what I was doing until the second half of the summer.
But on this little girl’s last day, she gave me a card and it made me feel as if I had made a difference, even if it was a small one. She didn’t know it, but it turned me into a better counsellor and a better person. That’s not a cliche.
In subsequent summers, my goal was to have a positive impact on as many campers as possible, even if they weren’t in my group.
I was able to do that.
When we were reunited at camp five years later, and I was able to show this camper the card she gave me, it felt as though everything had come full circle. Again, that’s not a cliche.
That was 2015.
So, if you ask me what I’m proud of, I won’t know where to start, but I won’t know where to end, either.
This is 2016.