The sound of cars flying by filled the air and the smell of eggs and salsa was drifting over from Rita’s “best breakfast tacos in Texas.” This doesn’t seem the ideal place to say goodbye, but thats where we found ourselves, tears in our eyes and down our faces, as we gave final hugs and spoke final words to each other through sobs, before heading home after the month that had changed all our lives. The month that we came into as 15 completely different strangers, but somehow left as 15 best friends, close enough to elicit tears in the parking lot of a taco stand, a pretty difficult feat if you ask me.
We had all been brought together by Laity Lodge Youth Camp, a christian camp nestled along the banks of the frio river in what i fondly refer to as middle of nowhere, Texas. Seriously, there are no roads that lead there, you have to drive on the side of a river, its as isolated as it gets. We had all signed up for different personal reasons and somehow agreed to spend a month there, no pay, no recognition, working in the kitchen as a part of the aptly titled Work Crew. Work Crew is Laity Lodge’s program for incoming seniors, you see we’re that awkward age where we are too old to be campers yet still not old enough to manage other peoples children so they just stick us to work in the kitchen because they really don’t know what else to do with us. It sounds pretty miserable, we spend 9 hours a day in the kitchen scraping barbaque sauce of off 344 plates, cleaning disintegrated cereal out of clogged drains and mopping up spills of unidentifiable substances time and time and time again. Yet it turned out to be the best experience of my entire life, and taught me more than I could have ever imagined.
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The thing that made crew unforgettable was the risk that it was to go. I went in knowing nobody, I was alone. I didn’t have the safety and comforts I cling to at home. The magic of crew was that we were able to be ourselves. I came to the canyon without my safety nets. I came without any of our nice clothes, former reputations, friends from home, expectations to live up to, or any defining factor from my real world life. We all did. We couldn’t hide behind the shells we are so used to defining ourselves by, our GPA’s, number of Facebook photos, parties we attended, parties we didn’t attend, goals we’d scored, votes we’d received, all of a sudden none of it mattered.
For me at home I hide in the reputation of a self-proclaimed goody-two shoes and rule follower. I’m scared to stray too far from the convention or do anything to out of the box for fear of disappointing people. This is not something to brag about. I get good grades, edit the school newspaper, and lead a bible study for middle schoolers. This is what I am known for. This is who at home I am. But going into work crew I didn’t have my present reputation. I had the freedom and ability to do things I wanted without worrying what others thought. I could do things seemingly out of character for a quiet and timid straight A student. I learned to live in the moment, to be spontaneous. To take chances. To do crazy things. Like the time when the skies opened up for the first time all summer and released rain and we celebrated by kicking off our shoes, and running down to the river, the mud squishing underneath my feet before jumping in fully clothed. Or the time at the Rodeo Dance, when under the cover of a thousand twinkling christmas lights and a blanket of stars covering the sky above that, to ask a counselor to dance, because my favorite song had just come on the stereo I wanted to dance, and goodness he was just really cute. To belt out music in a silent kitchen as loud and off-key as possible simply because my favorite song by Taylor Swift was on the speakers and I felt like singing aloud for a minute. To dance uninhibited, or really to just flail my arms and move my legs in odd contortions because I have no rhythm, but because pretending I know how to dance is better than just standing still and bobbing my head to the music. I learned to talk about my faults and my failures and admit that I don’t have everything figured out all the time, or even half of it. I learned to accept that people loved me even when they saw my flaws and learned to love others because of their flaws as well. I could see people as who they really were and not just the things they did, clothes they owned, or weekend activites. I learned that it’s not the things we think that define people. People can’t be defined. We all are complex creatures and theres no use pretending were not. We all want desperately to be loved and affirmed and accepted for who we are, and that really that’s all that matters.
The world I come from at home does not place a lot of value on who I really am. It places a lot of value on the things I do. I believe that college offers the chance for me to step into a world that accepts people for who they are as well as what they do. People who believe in themselves and know who they are so they don’t feel the need to conform to standards of who they should be. I believe this lesson is the most important one I have ever learned. And so I believe that Work Crew, learning how to mop and sweep and love others, taught me all I will ever need to know.