I, Pencil by Lawrence W. Reed: Quotations


A famous five-page story that succinctly illustrates Adam Smith’s principle of cooperation without coercion and Hayek’s idea that price values communicates the appropriate information to allow people to make economically rational decisions without force.


“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” – G.K. Chesterton

“Here is an astonishing fact: Neither the workers in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or truck nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit or metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.” – pg. 44

“If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” – pg. 45

“The lesson I have to each is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson.” – pg. 47

A Liberal Learning Book List by James V. Schall, S.J.

James Vincent Schall, S.J. was born on January 20th, 1928 in Pocahontas, Iowa. He is an American Jesuit Roman Catholic priest, professor, writer, and philosopher. He received an M.A. in Philosophy at Gonzaga University (1955), a PhD in Political Philosophy from Georgetown University (1960), ordained a Roman Catholic Priest (1963), and received a second M.A. in Sacred Theology from Santa Clara University (1964).


He has taught at the Gregorian University, Rome, Italy from 1965-1968, and spring 1969-1977. He has also taught at the University of San Francisco in the fall of 1969-1977. His most recent position was professor in the department of government at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (retired 2012).

The following book list was taken from his essay, A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, published by Inter-collegiate Studies Institute.


  1. What is Liberal Education by Leo Strauss
  2. The Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom by Frederick D. Wilhelmsen
  3. On Fairy-Tales by J.R.R. Tolkien

How Sanity and Wit belong together (by P.G. Wodehouse):

  1. Leave It to Psmith
  2. Blandings Castle and Elsewhere
  3. How Right You are, Jeeves
  4. The Wodehouse Clergy
  5. My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
  6. The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash

Five books on Thomas Aquinas:

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas by Ralph McInerny
  2. Guide to St. Thomas Aquinas by Josef Pieper
  3. Friar Thomas D’Aquino by James Weisheipl
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton
  5. The Thoughts of Thomas Aquinas by Brian Davies

Five Classic Texts on Philosophy, Good Men, and Death:

  1. The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo by Plato
  2. The account of the death of Christ in the Gospel of John (Chapters 13-21)
  3. On Duties by Cicero (especially Part III, written just before he was executed)
  4. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  5. Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt (On Sir Thomas More)

Six Classic Texts Never to Be Left Unread:

  1. Gorgias by Plato
  2. Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle
  3. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  4. The Confessions by Augustine
  5. Pensees by Pascal
  6. Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
    *Other fundamental texts: The Republic, The City of God, The Summa Theologiae

Seven Books about Universities:

  1. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
  2. Truth on Trial by Robert K. Carlson
  3. Telling the Truth by Lynne Cheney
  4. Escape from Skepticism: Liberal Education as if the Truth Mattered by Christopher Derrick
  5. Illiberal Education by Dinesh D’Souza
  6. The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman
  7. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
  8. The Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour (added via essay reference)

Four Books Once Found in Used Book Stores (that James V. Schall found):

  1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. Great Irish Short Stories Edited by Vivan Mercier
  3. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry by Perry Miller
  4. The Gospel According to Peanuts by Robert Short

Five Books by Joseph Pieper:

  1. Divine Madness: Plato’s Case against Secular Humanism
  2. The Four Cardinal Virtues
  3. In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity
  4. Living the Truth (which includes The Truth of All Things and Reality and the Good)
  5. Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Six Books Give to Me as a Gift and Now in My Personal Library:

  1. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
  2. Poets in a Landscape by Gilbert Highet
  3. Stories and Episodes by Thomas Mann
  4. The Defendant by G.K. Chesterton
  5. The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
  6. The Letters of Evelyn Waugh

Five Books by G.K. Chesterton and Two by his friend Hilaire Belloc:

  1. Orthodoxy
  2. What’s Wrong with the World
  3. Charles Dickens
  4. The Everlasting Man
  5. The Autobiography
  6. The Path to Rome
  7. The Four Men
    *The Chesterton Review (published by ISI) is also always worth a look.

Six Memorable Novels, among the Millions:

  1. Emma by Jane Austen
  2. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
  3. The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry
  4. Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  5. Lancelot by Walker Percy
  6. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky

Three Great Books on Love:

  1. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  2. About Love by Josef Pieper
  3. Love in the Western World by Denis de Rougemont

Four Older but Insightful Books on How to Prepare for an Intellectual Life:

  1. The Intellectual Life by A.D. Sertillanges
  2. How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler
  3. The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet
  4. The Teacher in America by Jacques Barzun

Schall’s Unlikely List of Books to Keep Sane By:

  1. An Anthology by Joseph Pieper
  2. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  3. Philosophy – An Introduction by J.M. Bochenski
  4. The Whimsical Christian by Dorthy Sayers
  5. A Guide for the Perplexed by E.F. Schumacher
  6. A General Theory of Authority by Yves Simon
  7. The Christian Universe by Eric Mascall
  8. The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor
  9. Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc
  10. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  11. Crossing the Threshold of Hope by John Paul II
  12. Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
  13. Homo Ludens by Johann Huizinga
  14. Conversations with Walker Percy
  15. The Seven Deadly Sins Today by Henry Fairlie
  16. The Road of Science and the Ways to God by Stanley Jaki
  17. Conversations with Eric Voegelin
  18. Rational Man by Henry Veatch
  19. The Hungry Soul by Leon Kass

We Have No Right to Happiness by C.S. Lewis: Quotations

C.s.lewis3This opinion piece was published in the Saturday Evening Post, December 11, 1963. It was C.S. Lewis’ last written work prior to his death. Here he examines the tragedy that awaits those who dispose the eternal law from behind the principle of ‘the right to happiness’: first it becomes ‘the right to (sexual) happiness’, and eventually ‘the right to happiness (in all things)’. “And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – one dare not even add ‘unfortunately’ – be swept away.”

“A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“They meant ‘to pursue happiness by all lawful means’; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, ‘Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.’ I was simple-minded enough to believe they mean what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; t your acquisitive impulse, avarice.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“If I object to boys who seal my nectarines, must I be supposed to disapprove of nectarines in general? Or even of boys in general? It might, you know, be stealing that I disapproved of.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of MR. A’s ‘right’ to desert his wife is one of ‘sexual morality.’ Robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called ‘fruit morality.’ It is an offense against honest. Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (Toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“When two people achieve lasting happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded mutually adaptable people.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness

“If we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness” which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience bu because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.” – C.S Lewis, We Have No Right to Happiness


We Have No Right to Happiness by C.S. Lewis

We have no right to Happiness
By C.S. Lewis

This opinion piece was published in the Saturday Evening Post, December 11, 1963. It was C.S. Lewis’ last written work prior to his death. Here he examines the tragedy that awaits those who dispose the eternal law from behind the principle of ‘the right to happiness’: first it becomes ‘the right to (sexual) happiness’, and eventually ‘the right to happiness (in all things)’. “And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – one dare not even add ‘unfortunately’ – be swept away.”

“After all,” said Clare. “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A. had deserted Mrs. A. and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B., who had likewise got her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was certainly no doubt that Mr. A. and Mrs. B. were very much in love with one another. If they continued to be in love, and if nothing went wrong with their health or their income, they might reasonable expect to be very happy.

c.s.lewis-ap1-bwIt was equally clear that they were not happy with their old partners. Mrs. B. had adored her husband at the outset. But then he got smashed up in the war. It was thought he had lost his virility, and it was known that he had lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B. had bargained for. Poor Mrs. A., too. She had lost her looks—and all her liveliness. It might be true, as some said, that she consumed herself by bearing his children and nursing him through the long illness that overshadowed their earlier married life.

You mustn’t, by the way, imagine that A. was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a “right to happiness.”

At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe—whatever one school of moralists may say—that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.

I can understand a right as a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in. Thus, I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom; that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.” I can also understand a right as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and correlative to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I have a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A. to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A. has a legal right to do so, and we need bring in no talk about happiness.

But of course that was not what Clare meant. She meant that he had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is—or would be if she thought it out—a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke. She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law.

I agree with her. I hold this conception to be basic to all civilization. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute, as in Hegel. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged.

The ancestry of Clare’s maxim. “They have a right to happiness,” is august. In words that are cherished by all civilized men, but especially by Americans, it has been laid down that one of the rights of man is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

What did the writers of that august declaration mean?

It is quite certain what they did not mean. They did not mean that man was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means—including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis.

They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Admittedly this seems at first to reduce their maxim to the tautology that men (in pursuit of happiness) have a right to do whatever they have a right to do. But tautologies, seen against their proper historical context, are not always barren tautologies. The declaration is primarily a denial of the political principles which long governed Europe; a challenge flung down to the Austrian and Russian empires, to England before the Reform Bills, to Bourbon France. It demands that whatever means of pursuing happiness are lawful for any should be lawful for alll that “man,” not men of some particular cast, class, status or religion, should be free to use them. In a century when this is being unsaid by nation after nation and party after party, let us not call it a barren tautology.

But the question as to what means are “lawful”—what methods of pursuing happiness are either morally permissible by the Law of Nature or should be declared legally permissible by the legislature of a particular nation—remains exactly where it did. And on that question I disagree with Clare. I don’t think it is obvious that people have the unlimited “right to happiness” which she suggests.

For one thing, I believe that Clare, when she says “happiness,” means simply and solely “sexual happiness.” Partly because women like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind. She was rather leftist in her politics, and would have been scandalized if anyone had defended the actions of a ruthless man-eating tycoon on the ground that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. She was also a rabid teetotaler; I never heard her excuse an alcoholic because he was happy when he was drunk.

A good many of Clare’s friends, and especially her female friends, often felt—I’ve heard them say so—that their own happiness would be perceptibly increased by boxing her ears. I very much doubt if this would have brought her theory of a right to happiness into play.

Clare, in fact, is doing what the whole western world seems to me to have been doing for the last 40-odd years. When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.”

It is like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong—unless you steal nectarines.

And if you protest against this view you are usually met with chatter about the legitimacy and beauty and sanctity of “sex” and accused of harboring some Puritan prejudice against it as something disreputable or shameful. I deny the charge. Foam-born Venus … golden Aphrodite … Our Lady of Cyprus… I never breathed a word against you. If I object to boys who steal my nectarines, must I be supposed to disapprove of nectarines in general? Or even of boys in general? It might, you know, be stealing that I disapproved of.

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” Robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause. It is this.

It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion—as distinct from a transient fit of appetite—that makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires makes promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence all seems to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the very thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are found often to be quite untrue. Every experienced adult knows this to be so as regards all erotic passions (except the one he himself is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretensions of our friends’ amours easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last—and sometimes don’t. And when they do last, this is not because they promised at the outset to do so. When two people achieve lasting happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also—I must put it crudely—good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and degradations, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory. Everyone (except Mr. A. and Mrs. B.) knows that Mr. A. in a year or so may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as for deserting his old. He will feel again that all is at stake. He will see himself again as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the woman.

Two further points remain.

One is this. A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Women, whatever a few male songs and satires may say to the contrary, are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits. Also, domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man, their beauty, decreases every year after they have come to maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality —women don’t really care two cents about our looks—by which we hold women. Thus in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.

Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to be impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will—one dare not even add “unfortunately”—be swept away.

I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read

I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read, Dec. 1958


  • Introduction by Milton Friedman
  • I, Pencil
    – Innumerable Antecedents
    – No One Knows
    – Testimony Galore
  • Afterword, by Donald J. Bourdreaux

Introduction, by Milton Friedman.

Professor Friedman, the 1976 Nobelist in Economic Science, is Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, California.

Leonard Read’s delightful story, “I, Pencil,” has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayek’s emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that “will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”

i-pencilWe used Leonard’s story in our television show, “Free to Choose,” and in the accompanying book of the same title to illustrate “the power of the market” (the title of both the first segment of the TV show and of chapter one of the book). We summarized the story and then went on to say:

“None of the thousands of persons involved in producing the pencil performed his task because he wanted a pencil. Some among them never saw a pencil and would not know what it is for. Each saw his work as a way to get the goods and services he wanted—goods and services we produced in order to get the pencil we wanted. Every time we go to the store and buy a pencil, we are exchanging a little bit of our services for the infinitesimal amount of services that each of the thousands contributed toward producing the pencil.

“It is even more astounding that the pencil was ever produced. No one sitting in a central office gave orders to these thousands of people. No military police enforced the orders that were not given. These people live in many lands, speak different languages, practice different religions, may even hate one another—yet none of these differences prevented them from cooperating to produce a pencil. How did it happen? Adam Smith gave us the answer two hundred years ago.”


“I, Pencil” is a typical Leonard Read product: imaginative, simple yet subtle, breathing the love of freedom that imbued everything Leonard wrote or did. As in the rest of his work, he was not trying to tell people what to do or how to conduct themselves. He was simply trying to enhance individuals’ understanding of themselves and of the system they live in.

That was his basic credo and one that he stuck to consistently during his long period of service to the public—not public service in the sense of government service. Whatever the pressure, he stuck to his guns, refusing to compromise his principles. That was why he was so effective in keeping alive, in the early days, and then spreading the basic idea that human freedom required private property, free competition, and severely limited government.

I, Pencil My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.

Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.

Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye—there’s some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.

Innumerable Antecedents

Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.

My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!

The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents.

Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill’s power!

Don’t overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation.

Once in the pencil factory—$4,000,000 in machinery and building, all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine—each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop—a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically carved from this “wood-clinched” sandwich.

My “lead” itself—it contains no lead at all—is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth—and the harbor pilots.

The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow—animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions—as from a sausage grinder-cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.

My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involve the skills of more persons than one can enumerate!

Observe the labeling. That’s a film formed by applying heat to carbon black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon black?

My bit of metal—the ferrule—is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.

Then there’s my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade as “the plug,” the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me. An ingredient called “factice” is what does the erasing. It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rape-seed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment which gives “the plug” its color is cadmium sulfide.

No One Knows

Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?

Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn’t a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field—paraffin being a by-product of petroleum.

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.

No Master Mind

There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.

It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!

I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.

The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand—that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.

Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn’t know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation’s mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people—in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity—the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental “master-minding.”

Testimony Galore

If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!

The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

Leonard E. Read (1898–1983) founded FEE in 1946 and served as its president until his death. “I, Pencil,” his most famous essay, was first published in the December 1958 issue of The Freeman. Although a few of the manufacturing details and place names have changed over the past forty years, the principles are unchanged.

Afterword, by Donald J. Boudreaux

There are two kinds of thinking: simplistic and subtle. Simplistic thinkers cannot understand how complex and useful social orders arise from any source other than conscious planning by a purposeful mind. Subtle thinkers, in contrast, understand that individual actions often occur within settings that encourage individuals to coordinate their actions with one another independent of any overarching plan. F. A. Hayek called such unplanned but harmonious coordination “spontaneous order.”

The mark of the subtle mind is not only its ability to grasp the idea of spontaneous orders but also to understand that conscious attempts to improve or to mimic these orders are doomed to fail. “Why so?” asks the simplistic thinker. “How can happenstance generate complex order superior to what a conscious mind can conceive and implement?” In responding to this question, a subtle thinker points out that spontaneous orders do not arise from happenstance: the continual adjustments by each individual within spontaneous orders follow a very strict logic—the logic of mutual accommodation. Because no central planner can possibly know all of the details of each individual’s unique situation, no central planner can know how best to arrange each and every action of each and every individual with that of the multitudes of other individuals.

In the eighteenth century, a handful of scholars—most notably David Hume and Adam Smith—developed a subtle understanding of how private property rights encourage self-regarding producers and consumers to act in mutually beneficial ways. Spontaneous ordering forces were thus discovered, and with this discovery modern economics began to take shape.

Over the next two centuries economics achieved enormous success in furthering our understanding not only of industry and commerce, but of society itself. Modern economics—that is to say, economics that explores the emergence of spontaneous orders—is a sure-fire inoculant against the simplistic notion that conscious direction by the state can improve upon the pattern of mutual adjustments that people make within a system of secure private property rights.

But learning modern economics requires some effort—in the same way that breaking free of any simplistic mindset requires effort. It isn’t surprising, then, that those economists who’ve contributed most to a widespread understanding of the subject have been clear and vivid writers, skillful in using analogies and everyday observations to lubricate the mind’s transition away from superficial thinking and toward a grasp of subtle insights. The best economic writers cause oncesimplistic thinkers to say “Aha! Now I get it!” Skillfully tutored, a simplistic mind becomes a subtle mind.

For its sheer power to display in just a few pages the astounding fact that free markets successfully coordinate the actions of literally millions of people from around the world into a productive whole, nothing else written in economics compares to Leonard Read’s celebrated essay, “I, Pencil.” This essay’s power derives from Read’s drawing from such a prosaic item an undeniable, profound, and spectacular conclusion: it takes the knowledge of countless people to produce a single pencil. No newcomer to economics who reads “I, Pencil” can fail to have a simplistic belief in the superiority of central planning or regulation deeply shaken. If I could choose one essay or book that everyone in the world would read, I would unhesitatingly choose “I, Pencil.” Among these readers, simplistic notions about the economy would be permanently transformed into a new and vastly more subtle—and correct—understanding.

*This Essay can be found the Liberty Fund

What is Liberal Education? By Leo Strauss

What is Liberal Education?
By Leo Strauss
Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor
Department of Political Science
The University of Chicago
An Address Delivered
at the Tenth Annual Graduation Exercises
of the
Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults
June 6, 1959

Leo Strauss was born in Germany in 1899. Since coming to the United States in 1938 he has been professor of political science and philosophy at the New School for Social Research and professor of political science at the University of Chicago. In 1954-55 he was visiting professor of philosophy and political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among the books Professor Strauss has written are The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, Natural Right and History, and Thoughts on Machiavelli.

You have acquired a liberal education. I congratulate you on your achievement. If I were entitled to do so, I would praise you for your achievement. But I would be untrue to the obligation which I have undertaken if I did not supplement my congratulations with a warning. The liberal education which you have acquired will avert the danger that the warning will be understood as a counsel of despair.

Liberal education is education in culture or toward culture. The finished product of a liberal education is a cultured human being. “Culture” (cultura) means primarily agriculture: the cultivation of the soil and its products, taking care of the soil, improving l-strauss-introthe soil in accordance with its nature. “Culture” means derivatively and today chiefly the cultivation of the mind, the taking care and improving of the native faculties of the mind in accordance with the nature of the mind. Just as the soil needs cultivators of the soil, the mind needs teachers. But teachers are not as easy to come by as farmers. The teachers themselves are pupils and must be pupils. But there cannot be an infinite regress: ultimately there must be teachers who are not in turn pupils. Those teachers who are not in turn pupils are the great minds or, in order to avoid any ambiguity in a matter of such importance, the greatest minds. Such men are extremely rare. We are not likely to meet any of them in any classroom. We are not likely to meet any of them anywhere. It is a piece of good luck if there is a single one alive in one’s time. For all practical purposes, pupils, of whatever degree of proficiency, have access to the teachers who are not in turn pupils, to the greatest minds, only through the great books. Liberal education will then consist in studying with the proper care the great books which the greatest minds have left behind — a study in which the more experienced pupils assist the less experienced pupils, including the beginners.

This is not an easy task, as would appear if we were to consider the formula which I have just mentioned. That formula requires a long commentary. Many lives have been spent and may still be spent in writing such commentaries. For instance, what is meant by the remark that the great books should be studied “with the proper care”? At present I mention only one difficulty which is obvious to everyone among you: the greatest minds do not all tell us the same things regarding the most important themes; the community of the greatest minds is rent by discord and even by various kinds of discord. Whatever further consequences this may entail, it certainly entails the consequence that liberal education cannot be simply indoctrination. I mention yet another difficulty. “Liberal education is education in culture.” In what culture? Our answer is: culture in the sense of the Western tradition. Yet Western culture is only one among many cultures. By limiting ourselves to Western culture, do we not condemn liberal education to a kind of parochialism, and is not parochialism incompatible with the liberalism, the generosity, the open-mindedness, of liberal education? Our notion of liberal education does not seem to fit an age which is aware of the fact that there is not the culture of the human mind but a variety of cultures. Obviously, “culture” if susceptible of being used in the plural is not quite the same thing as “culture” which is a singulare tantum, which can be used only in the singular. “Culture” is now no longer, as people say, an absolute but has become relative. It is not easy to say what culture susceptible of being used in the plural means. As a consequence of this obscurity people have suggested, explicitly or implicitly, that “culture” is any pattern of conduct common to any human group. Hence we do not hesitate to speak of the culture of suburbia or of the cultures of juvenile gangs both non-delinquent and delinquent. In other words, every human being outside of lunatic asylums is a cultured human being, for he participates in a culture. At the frontiers of research there arises the question as to whether there are not cultures also of inmates of lunatic asylums. If we contrast the present day usage of “culture” with the original meaning, it is as if someone would say that the cultivation of a garden may consist of the garden being littered with empty tin cans and whiskey bottles and used papers of various descriptions thrown around the garden at random. Having arrived at this point, we realize that we have lost our way somehow. Let us then make a fresh start by raising the question: what can liberal education mean here and now?

Liberal education is literate education of a certain kind: some sort of education in letters or through letters. There is no need to make a case for literacy; every voter knows that modern democracy stands or falls by literacy. In order to understand this need we must reflect on modern democracy. What is modern democracy? It was once said that democracy is the regime that stands or falls by virtue: a democracy is a regime in which all or most adults are men of virtue, and since virtue seems to require wisdom, a regime in which all or most adults are virtuous and wise, or the society in which all or most adults have developed their reason to a high degree, or the rational society. Democracy in a word is meant to be an aristocracy which has broadened into a universal aristocracy. Prior to the emergence of modern democracy some doubts were felt whether democracy thus understood is possible. As one of the two greatest minds among the theorists of democracy put it, “If there were a people consisting of gods, it would rule itself democratically. A government of such perfection is not suitable for human beings.” This still and small voice has by now become a high-powered loudspeaker. There exists a whole science — the science which I among thousands profess to teach, political science — which so to speak has no other theme than the contrast between the original conception of democracy, or what one may call the ideal of democracy, and democracy as it is. According to an extreme view which is the predominant view in the profession, the ideal of democracy was a sheer delusion and the only thing which matters is the behavior of democracies and the behavior of men in democracies. Modem democracy, so far from being universal aristocracy, would be mass rule were it not for the fact that the mass cannot rule but is ruled by elites, i.e., groupings of men who for whatever reason are on top or have a fair chance to arrive at the top; one of the most important virtues required for the smooth working of democracy, as far as the mass is concerned, is said to be electoral apathy, i.e., lack of public spirit; not indeed the salt of the earth but the salt of modern democracy are those citizens who read nothing except the sports page and the comic section. Democracy is then not indeed mass rule but mass culture. A mass culture is a culture which can be appropriated by the meanest capacities without any intellectual and moral effort whatsoever and at a very low monetary price. But even a mass culture and precisely a mass culture requires a constant supply of what are called new ideas, which are the products of what are called creative minds: even singing commercials lose their appeal if they are not varied from time to time. But democracy, even if it is only regarded as the hard shell which protects the soft mass culture, requires in the long run qualities of an entirely different kind: qualities of dedication, of concentration, of breadth and of depth. Thus we understand most easily what liberal education means here and now. Liberal education is the counter-poison to mass culture, to the corroding effects of mass culture, to its inherent tendency to produce nothing but “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart.” Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant. Liberal education is the necessary endeavor to found an aristocracy within democratic mass society. Liberal education reminds those members of a mass democracy who have ears to hear, of human greatness.

Someone might say that this notion of liberal education is merely political, that it dogmatically assumes the goodness of modem democracy. Can we not turn our backs on modem society? Can we not return to nature, to the life of preliterate tribes? Are we not crushed, nauseated, degraded by the mass of printed material, the graveyards of so many beautiful and majestic forests? It is not sufficient to say that this is mere romanticism, that we today cannot return to nature: may not coming generations, after a man-wrought cataclysm, be compelled to live in illiterate tribes? Will our thoughts concerning thermonuclear wars not be affected by such prospects? Certain it is that the horrors of mass culture (which include guided tours to integer nature) render intelligible the longing for a return to nature. An illiterate society at its best is a society ruled by age-old ancestral custom which it traces to original founders, gods or sons of gods or pupils of gods; since there are no letters in such a society, the late heirs cannot be in direct contact with the original founders; they cannot know whether the fathers or grandfathers have not deviated from what the original founders meant, or have not defaced the divine message by merely human additions or subtractions; hence an illiterate society cannot consistently act on its principle that the best is the oldest. Only letters which have come down from the founders can make it possible for the founders to speak directly to the latest heirs. It is then self-contradictory to wish to return to illiteracy. We are compelled to live with books. But life is too short to live with any but the greatest books. In this respect as well as in some others, we do well to take as our model that one among the greatest minds who because of his common sense is the mediator between us and the greatest minds. Socrates never wrote a book but be read books. Let me quote a statement of Socrates which says almost everything that has to be said on our subject, with the noble simplicity and quiet greatness of the ancients. “Just as others are pleased by a good horse or dog or bird, I myself am pleased to an even higher degree by good friends. . . . And the treasures of the wise men of old which they left behind by writing them in books, I unfold and go through them together with my friends, and if we see something good, we pick it out and regard it as a great gain if we thus become useful to one another.” The man who reports this utterance, adds the remark: “When I heard this, it seemed to me both that Socrates was blessed and that be was leading those listening to him toward perfect gentlemanship.” This report is defective since it does not tell us anything as to what Socrates did regarding those passages in the books of the wise men of old of which he did not know whether they were good. From another report we learn that Euripides once gave Socrates the writing of Heraclitus and then asked him for his opinion about that writing. Socrates said: “What I have understood is great and noble; I believe this is also true of what I have not understood; but one surely needs for understanding that writing some special sort of a diver.”

Education to perfect gentlemanship, to human excellence, liberal education consists in reminding oneself of human excellence, of human greatness. In what way, by what means does liberal education remind us of human greatness? We cannot think highly enough of what liberal education is meant to be. We have beard Plato’s suggestion that education in the highest sense is philosophy. Philosophy is quest for wisdom or quest for knowledge regarding the most important, the highest, or the most comprehensive things; such knowledge, he suggested, is virtue and is happiness. But wisdom is inaccessible to man and hence virtue and happiness will always be imperfect. In spite of this, the philosopher, who, as such, is not simply wise, is declared to be the only true king; be is declared to possess all the excellences of which man’s mind is capable, to the highest degree. From this we must draw the conclusion that we cannot be philosophers — that we cannot acquire the highest form of education. We must not be deceived by the fact that we meet many people who say that they are philosophers. For those people employ a loose expression which is perhaps necessitated by administrative convenience. Often they mean merely that they are members of philosophy departments. And it is as absurd to expect members of philosophy departments to be philosophers as it is to expect members of art departments to be artists. We cannot be philosophers but we can love philosophy; we can try to philosophize. This philosophizing consists at any rate primarily and in a way chiefly in listening to the conversation between the great philosophers or, more generally and more cautiously, between the greatest minds, and therefore in studying the great books. The greatest minds to whom we ought to listen are by no means exclusively the greatest minds of the West. It is merely an unfortunate necessity which prevents us from listening to the greatest minds of India and of China: we do not understand their languages, and we cannot learn all languages. To repeat, liberal education consists in listening to the conversation among the greatest minds. But here we are confronted with the overwhelming difficulty that this conversation does not take place without our help — that in fact we must bring about that conversation. The greatest minds utter monologues. We must transform their monologues into a dialogue, their “side by side” into a “together.” The greatest minds utter monologues even when they write dialogues. When we look at the Platonic dialogues, we observe that there is never a dialogue among minds of the highest order: all Platonic dialogues are dialogues between a superior man and men inferior to him. Plato apparently felt that one could not write a dialogue between two men of the highest order. We must then do something which the greatest minds were unable to do. Let us face this difficulty — a difficulty so great that it seems to condemn liberal education as an absurdity. Since the greatest minds contradict one another regarding the most important matters, they compel us to judge of their monologues; we cannot take on trust what any one of them says. On the other hand we cannot but notice that we are not competent to be judges. This state of things is concealed from us by a number of facile delusions. We somehow believe that our point of view is superior, higher than those of the greatest minds — either because our point of view is that of our time, and our time, being later than the time of the greatest minds, can be presumed to be superior to their times; or else because we believe that each of the greatest minds was right from his point of view but not, as be claims, simply right: we know that there cannot be the simply true substantive view but only a simply true formal view; that formal view consists in the insight that every comprehensive view is relative to a specific perspective, or that all comprehensive views are mutually exclusive and none can be simply true. The facile delusions which conceal from us our true situation all amount to this, that we are, or can be, wiser than the wisest men of the past. We are thus induced to play the part not of attentive and docile listeners but of impresarios or lion-tamers. Yet we must face our awesome situation, created by the necessity that we try to be more than attentive and docile listeners, namely, judges, and yet we are not competent to be judges. As it seems to me, the cause of this situation is that we have lost all simply authoritative traditions in which we could trust, the nomos which gave us authoritative guidance, because our immediate teachers and teachers’ teachers believed in the possibility of a simply rational society. Each of us here is compelled to find his bearings by his own powers however defective they may be.

We have no comfort other than that inherent in this activity. Philosophy, we have learned, must be on its guard against the wish to be edifying — philosophy can only be intrinsically edifying. We cannot exert our understanding without from time to time understanding something of importance; and this act of understanding may be accompanied by the awareness of our understanding, by the understanding of understanding, by noesis noeseos, and this is so high, so pure, so noble an experience that Aristotle could ascribe it to his God. This experience is entirely independent of whether what we understand primarily is pleasing or displeasing, fair or ugly. It leads us to realize that all evils are in a sense necessary if there is to be understanding. It enables us to accept all evils which befall us and which may well break our hearts in the spirit of good citizens of the city of God. By becoming aware of the dignity of the mind, we realize the true ground of the dignity of man and therewith the goodness of the world, whether we understand it as created or as uncreated, which is the home of man because it is the home of the human mind.

Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty, not to say of humility. It is at the same time a training in boldness: it demands from us the complete break with the noise, the rush, the thoughtlessness, the cheapness of the Vanity Fair of the intellectuals as well as of their enemies. It demands from us the boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions, or to regard the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange or the least popular opinions. Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for “vulgarity”; they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful.

*Article pulled from the following link.

Lessons from Redwood – Week 1

Me: Do you know what Tank and I have in common?
Beta (My Camper): Yeah, a bad haircut!

At the end of the Death Hallows, after Voldemort had been defeated, after the catastrophe of Hogwarts and the deaths of so many of our beloved characters, one could spy Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts, beginning to “get on” with the world by sweeping the rubble of a collapsed column. I would like to imagine that on this day I was much like Filch, just beginning to “get on” in the world of camp counselors. But, unfortunately, this was very much untrue in the simple regard that I had begun cleaning before Voldemort and the death eaters had arrived.

I had checked and rechecked my bags, ensured my bed was made, tried to walk about the cabin imagining where each of my children would be sleeping. I was rehearsing the rules and how I would present them to my kids – Respect, listen to the counselor, keep them alive one day at a time (the latter was less of a rule than a good guiding principle). I had my banner posted on the outside of cabin 15, which, if I may add, I found to my liking for it had a dim light that shown in from outside during the night and was the closest cabin to the boys bathroom. The problem was with my banner. With every slight breeze it was sent waving down into the leaves. I would grab it, pick out each of the small leaves, and hang it up again. I did this four or five times before heading for our pre-lawn-chant prayer.

All of the week’s counselors and a few of the program staff would circle up at the log for our prayer – arms wrapped about each others shoulders and sides. I’m not sure why we did it this way, but I prefer to think of it as our pre-week “we got each others backs” moment. Of course, there was always one or two late-comers, so before our prayer we just hung around each other until all was accounted for.

After our prayer, it was game time. We all ran to the meadow for lawn-chants. I made sure I wasn’t the first one, as I still had no idea what I was doing, nor the last one, as I didn’t want to betray my lack of enthusiasm for singing kiddie songs to a bunch of strangers, or worse, to the parents of the children I would be taking care of. But I decidedly remember the moment I bought into all this bizarre silliness (I was less than accepting of our previous week’s attempt to be silly with each other during songs). We began doing our lawn chants to the arriving children and chasing them with our tunnel. One of the mother’s came walking up with her little daughter – she couldn’t have been older than five or six – dressed in white with pink overalls. She put her down at the opening of our tunnel and the little girl came running through with the largest and brightest smile I have seen. The mother tried to walk around our tunnel with no avail, for who could resist the tunnel after that? It was in this moment I remember thinking, though I may identify with the father who pledged, “There is no way I’m running through that tunnel,” there’s no good reason not to be a little silly for a smile like that.

Shortly, the time came every counselor was waiting for: to have our names called. “Zeta! You’ve got campers!” By the time I arrived to my cabin, two or three children were already present, and my banner had fallen down … again. This was when I finally conceded the point by hanging my banner on the door handle.

Originally, I was expected to have only six children, but that magnificent number was quickly changed to seven when two more had arrived. The mothers assured me there was a mistake because one of the children in cabin 14 was friends with two of mine. It was at about this moment that one of the fathers pulled me outside the cabin, told me to put out my hand, and gave me fifty dollars. He said, “If you survive this week, you have my sincerest respect.” I quickly and sincerely responded, “Oh, it’s not necessary, I …” he interrupted me, “No, I live with him,” pointing to his son, “and know those two. (One of “those two” was my new addition.) It’s bad.” I’m not sure if there is a surer way to crush the hopes of a counselor or at an earlier time.

I don’t remember speaking to the parents all that much, but I do remember how chaotic it was. The kids were shouting and yelling, they were arguing over their beds and hitting each other with pillows, while trying to say “Hi” to their cabin mates. It wasn’t until three bolted off that I realized all that noise was due to less than half my cabin. By the time I shouted to the remaining mother or two, “Watch the cabin!” They had already jumped on the Whale Watch (It’s essentially a large balancing board that can hold about twenty kids), knocked a few children off to the great dismay of their parents, and ran towards echo base. I was trying to shout their names, but I couldn’t remember and my paperlist was nothing but useless in identifying the backs of heads. I finally caught them just passed echo base and cabin 1, as they were heading down the path towards the dining hall.

At first, I tried to get them to tell me their names, they just made them up. Then I decided to call them by the colors of their hats. They simply switched them. And so I pushed all three of their faces together, which they didn’t appreciate at all, and said, “Your names are Alpha, Beta, Delta, if you don’t respond to those names, you’re BUSTED!” Alpha replied, “Sweet! I’m the alpha dog.” “Wrong,” was my response, “I’m the alpha male, you’re just a small alpha, a mini alpha, a lower-case alpha.” Delta responded, “Delta?! That’s a stupid name.” I assured him that delta squad is a special forces unit, which more or less settled his doubt. But Beta simply argued, “My name isn’t Beta, it’s Beta-Baller!”

I finally brought them back to cabin 15 and was glad to see a mother there. I thanked her, got all seven of my children together, and began our tour of the camp – the only  event I had so far anticipated.

First Evening – Da rules. 

After completing the camp tour, I sent my cabin running into the pavilion to usher whatever destruction they had left in them. It was in this thirty or so minutes that became a somewhat “counselors’ update.” We exchanged our initial thoughts, our prayer requests for the coming week, and just laughed at any crazy moments we had.

Soon, we were all called to Victory Circle where we watched an intro video on the main camp rules and introduced each of the Summer Staff, the jobs they had, and the names of their cabins if they were counseling. It was this moment I won my cabin over, “My name is Zeta and I’ll be counseling my Titans!” I had not known Percy Jackson was a hit among 3rd and 4th graders, but I could hear them saying, “Oh! Titans, those are the most powerful Greek gods.” And then Beta shouted, “Yeah, much better than the Olympians. They suck!” I’m fairly certain, or at least hoped, that Athena, a female counselor who’s cabin were the Olympains, didn’t catch it. Afterwards we headed to dinner.

The dinner was quite uneventful, shockingly, but it did begin a few habits that I carried on through the summer. I always made sure to handle the water for my kids and ensure they drank enough water at every meal. Also, for the most part, I tried to do the scrape, stack, and sorting myself – often delegating the “spray and wipe down” and providing all of my children something to take back to the kitchen.

Later, when we all arrived back to the cabin for the night, we began going over the camp rules and introduce a few of our own. The first was “Don’t interrupt the counselor when he’s speaking.” I’m not sure if this was a rule for the kids or a reminder of how detached I was from reality. Second, was “No Swearing.” I’m not going to even elaborate as to how that became a rule on the first evening. And, my last rule. Respect.

I had just begun to explain this rule when,”Boom! Boom! Boom!” The kids almost jumped out of their sleeping bags and I had almost hit my head against the desk (I was sitting on the floor near the back of the cabin). I had forgotten Tank had told us  he would make the first night the “straighten all the kids up” night and so enter with a bit of thunder. In the utter silence of my cabin he told us his favorite rule – Respect – and that if they misbehaved they’d get a “Tank-Talk”. Pretty scary.

I hadn’t a way to know for sure, but that week, and every week after, I always tried to not smile or laugh as I listened to Tank give “the talk” to my kids. While it was perhaps the most priceless help a counselor could ask for – to have Tank be our bad guy for us – it was also a side of Tank that wasn’t truly in his nature… Well, except the beard. That helped him out a lot.

After my kids were lights-out for bed, I had my first prayer partner time. I was assigned to be apart of the one trio group that week – three partners instead of two. They were Toothless (Cabin 16) and Mr. Incredible (Cabin 14). I didn’t know them all that well, even during training week. But, taking it in faith, I was confident that this time would become a prized possession and spent the night with two strangers after what appeared to be a day in hell.

The first night of prayer partners was actually a time of prayer – I was surprised. We talked about our day, the ups and downs, and then simply prayed for strength in the coming day. We weren’t too concerned for the entire week, just a day at a time. And then we were back to our cabins for sleep.

I remember walking in quietly so as to not wake anyone up, carefully shutting the door without too much noise. I stood there for a moment, in the entry way, listening to them sleep and thought, “Man, they’re such good kids when they’re sleeping.”

The Next Day…

It had to be 6:00am or 6:30am when they began fighting. Some of the cabin wanted to sleep, the others weren’t so concerned with getting up as defending themselves on why they weren’t being loud… by yelling at the others that they weren’t being loud. After about 30 minutes or so of trying to get them to be quite, I had it. I told everyone to put on their shoes and step outside. Beta began complaining that he was in his pajamas, which created an echo in the cabin among the other children. Too bad. We all got our shoes on and were standing outside the cabin in five or so minutes.

I told them we were going to greet the morning properly, not with fighting, but a nice jog through the woods – taking in the quite morning air of God’s creation. We began just outside cabin 15, headed up to Victory Circle (I waved to Spud during his one-on-one, I remember his puzzlement but I don’t remember a reaction), down through the pavilion, through the playground, around the backside of the main office, and back to cabin 15. We did this almost twice. During the second lap the morning bell rang so I brought them all to the water-main between Cabin 15 and Cabin 16 to form a circle and pray to God that this day would go well. Afterwards we went to breakfast – all the while Beta complaining that he was still in his pajamas.

The Second Day…

One of my lesser known rules was that after I had divided up bathroom partners (we always go in groups of three), I told them that if they had to go to the bathroom during the night, they had to not only wake up their buddy, but also wake me up. The catch to the rule was this: I told them that the sound of their bed creaking would most likely wake me up (as it usually did), but I wouldn’t move or show any signs that I was awake until they actually came over and physically tried to wake me up – they had to be comfortable doing it.

So the next morning, I’m not sure why, but Beta jumped down out of bed. Thinking he had to use the restroom, I watched to see what he would do. He started getting his shoes on and then stood by the door. A few of the other kids in the cabin, hearing his disturbances, peaked out of their sleeping bags and asked him what he was doing, he replied, “I can’t find Zeta anywhere, he’s probably waiting outside to make us run again.” Okay, I’m a bit of a bundler when it comes to blankets, as I effectively had four blankets during camp, but you could find me if you came over to my bedside. Another kid, Psi (I’ll explain later) replied, “No… I’m pretty sure Zeta wouldn’t leave us.”

At this point everyone was getting out of bed so I chimed in, “No, were not not going for another beautiful morning run through the woods,” Beta gave a cheer, “Unless… someone wants to. It’s quite beautiful outside.” They weren’t going to have it. But I did explain why that happened the first time and why it wasn’t going to happen again.

Later in the day, as I came back from my break, Fumba nabbed me under the pavilion. “Hey Zeta, your kids are crazy.” I couldn’t help but laugh and give that wide-eye expression that implies, “You’re telling me?!?” He continued, “I knew Kuya and I had your kids because yours were the ones not listening and destroying everything.” Yeah, that daily hour break was a small slice of heaven for me during that week.

When I arrived back, my kids were arguing why Alpha, Beta, and Delta had cool names and they didn’t. Where they special? So I told them I’d give them names. One of them approached me and said he had one. “Shoot for it,” I replied. “Omega.” I was surprised he understood I was using only Greek letters and chose one for himself. He got it. I named his friend Theta. The other two pairs, because they were friends, were Psi and Phi (I told them, together, they could be Psi-Phi [Sci-Fi].)

At dinner, while in line, the Camp Director approached me and said, “You have some crazy kids… Remember, this too shall pass.” In my defense, I did get him back a few weeks later. I almost felt bad, but I’m sure he took it all in good humor. He was sitting nearby during lunch, looking like it was already a really really long day, and so I asked him, “Having a rough day?” He laughed, sighed, and agreed. So I responded, “Well, remember, you have another one coming tomorrow!” He gave me a courtesy laugh, but, I know the truth, deep down he appreciated it.

That night I lost my voice. And it wasn’t that raspy sort of voice you get after a sore throat. It was gone. Anything above a whisper either cracked or didn’t even make a sound. As Tank later mentioned, “I have never seen someone lose his voice so bad before.” He then explained to me how to yell like a counselor – from the stomach and not from the throat. What is it that Tim Hawkins says: Good advice too late?

The rest of the week in a rush…

As with the previous week, it’s hard to sort out all of the memories into chronological order, but here are here below.

Candy Galore. When the triple threat had arrived, they had bags and bags of candy, and after every lunch, they each received another box full of candy. It got to the point that three of the kids in the cabin had too much candy and four of the kids just sat and watch them eat it. So I did the responsible thing and purchased four more bags of candy. the program staff write the four kids letters and Tank delivered it to them during KBAR (Kick Back and Relax) time. However, I told everyone I would collect the candy and distribute it to them during their KBAR times, any cabin time, and just before bed (Yes, I know, good call).

Well, apparently I didn’t collect all the candy. During one of the nights, I woke up to Beta’s sleeping bag falling off the bunk above me. I had a charitable moment where I thought I should pick it up for him and tuck him in, but that didn’t last long so I went back to sleep. Shortly after, I woke up to the sound of a bag of candy hitting the floor. Okay, I thought to myself, I’ll get that in the morning. I went back to sleep. Shortly after, I heard another bag of candy hit the floor. I popped my head up, “How many bags of candy does that kid have in his sleeping bag (I had already confiscated a USPS sized priority box of candy from him)?” While I waited, I could hear him kicking around in his sleep, the only other sound was the rustle of candy wrappers. “That little devil.”

Serious Shower Time. Anyone who knows anyone will tell you there is always a “sanctuary” that we make in our lives – it’s that fixed, archimedian point. When I was traveling through Europe, it was where I slept. The traveling could be rough, the food terrible, the people mean, but I had to have a place to sleep that I knew was safe. At camp, with all the spiders, my bed wasn’t my sanctuary, it was the shower (as long as I didn’t look up).

It was just after beach day, I had taken my 20 minute shower. I know, I expected a lot, but it was my 20 minutes in the fortress of solitude. On my way from the shower, back to my cabin, Beta met me along the way. He stopped and said, “Zeta, you wanna fight?” I don’t know what came over me, I was just in one of those moods.  So I replied, “You’re barking way too far up the totem poll, dude.” Upon hearing this, Alpha  came running out of the cabin to join in, “Yeah, we’ll both take you on!” I dropped my towel and said, “You wanna go? I’ll take you two down right here.” Obviously, I wasn’t going to actually take them down, but I did realize that this whole hostage crisis would become active terrorism if it wasn’t reigned in.

Later that week, I heard from Peanut that while he was brushing his teeth, they had told each other, right in front of him, “If I take his legs, you can go for the throat.”

Theta Swimming. This was such a small moment in this week, but it was just…well, let me explain. Theta was, in the truest sense, a happy camper. Every morning, to my horror and against all the prayers I could spare, we had morning swim… It was cold… But the main game we played  was water polo.

On this morning, Theta was just chugging along from one end of the pool to the other when, as he passed through the middle of the water polo section, Stryder (one of the tallest counselors of the summer, if not the tallest) jumped up for the ball. Upon coming down Stryder landed sideways on Theta. I jumped over to grab Theta, but I was too late. Theta was already being pushed under. But before he submerged, all I caught was a HUGE smile on his face. He was my smallest child, so I easily pick him up and out of the water and set him down outside the water polo section. No harm. He was still just as happy as can be.

The Tank Talk.  As, perhaps, anyone could guess, my first cabin was the cabin that had the famous “tank talk”. The problem that ended up emerging during the week is what I’d like to call mob warfare. Alpha, Beta, Delta, formed the cool-kid-club that wanted to control everything and Phi, Psy, Theta, and Omega formed the not-cool-kids-club who would make underhanded comments to get them going.

During the week I had tried to soften up the tensions by requiring the first part of KBAR as a “Get to know you,” where I would assign kids to hangout on the bunk from someone from the other mob, write out 10 things about them, and then, that night, I would always begin by having them tell me four or five of them that they learned about them.

Also, after losing my voice, I sent all of my cabin, save Alpha and Phi (the mob leaders), over to Mr. Incredible’s cabin for a game of mafia. While they were there, I told gave my kids “the Zeta talk”. I sat them both on the floor of my cabin and tried to talk to them about leadership. The beginning was rough because it’s hard to have a serious conversation with a voice that incessantly rang with pubescent crackling. So we agreed that we would all have to whisper – that was all my voice could handle.

I began with the facts of the situation – that two mobs existed and they weren’t getting along. I told them that what I’m about to ask them isn’t, strictly speaking, fair. That often times in life 20% of the people do 80% of the work. They both seemed to agree and understand what I was saying: I wanted them to take it upon themselves to makes sure each side was getting along and being respectful. I concluded our meeting with a few stories about Alexander the Great. I wasn’t sure if it sunk in or not until, after reuniting them with Mr. Incredible’s cabin, they both yelled, “Guys! Zeta has these awesome stories about Alexander the Great and being a leader.”

Despite my best efforts, Tank did come by that evening to have a talk with each of the cabin mates independently – to inspire fear in the wilder ones and to ask about how the quieter ones were holding up.

After the shake-down was over, Tank came back to check up on me. I told him everything was fine and that I was feeling okay. Then, from the side of the door, came Fumba’s head. He said, “You’re kill’n it Zeta! You’re doing great!” It was probably the only time I had done this, but I got up from the floor, walked to the door, and voluntarily gave my almost bald-headed friend a hug (he had a buzz cut). It was my unvocalized expression of conflict between “Please, don’t leave me,” and, “I can’t give up on myself.” I almost cried.

A few days later, towards the end of the week, Alpha squad became emotional.We were supposed to be on our way to the catapult game down by the meadow, when the fighting broke out – and then the crying. I had Mr. Incredible take the rest of the cabin down while I spoke to the three kids. I began asking them what was wrong. Apparently, Beta and Alpha were fighting about why Alpha helped the other team instead of Beta during basketball. When I was just on the brink of solving that problem, Delta joined in and said, “My mother told me Beta’s a bad influence and I shouldn’t be friends.” That…. Didn’t help any of the progress that had been made.

Just when I turned to address Delta, I heard Sweets yelling from the top of the hill, “Zeta! You’re cabin needs to be down at the meadow for the game.” I quickly replied, “I know, I sent the others but I need to talk to these kids for a moment.” She replied, “Zeta! The game’s going on now.” “Yes, I need to talk to these kids.” She stood there with a look like, “Are we really going back and forth right now?” So I added, “There’s some fighting and I just need like… five more minutes.” She told me to hurry up and left.

Instead of trying to address them again, I decided to take a fairly advanced approach – why not, nothing’s guaranteed. I said, “Guys, a college I once attended had a motto that read, ‘Manners Mayketh Man.’ What does that mean?” I was taken back my Alpha’s answer, “It means like… etiquette. Like, you have a way to eat but you eat another way.” “Exactly.” I continued, “The motto tells us that what makes us different from anything else, from the birds or… even the squirrels,” they both looked at the tree behind them, “we don’t merely respond to each other at a whim, we get to choose how we treat each other. We can choose to be nice even if we don’t feel like it.” Delta responded, “But I don’t feel like treating him like a friend.” A few moments later, they agreed that, even if they didn’t like each other, they would try to treat each other as friends anyways.

On our way down to the meadow, one could perhaps see that solemn process of dishearten children who were forced to smile. When we arrived at the bridge I told them, emphatically, that they couldn’t cross it. Beta responded, “Why not?” “Have you not heard of the story of the bridge troll?” They all replied, “Yes, it asks questions.” “Yes, but this one makes you do something, you can only jump across the bridge – walking. If you do, I’ll throw you off into the creek below. There’s enough water down there that you won’t die, but you may have a few bruises.” I then jumped high and hard to shake the bridge as much as I could and send the kids on their way as quickly as I could…. It wasn’t until later that I found out that bridge jumping was against the rule. Oops.

Mr. Incredible being Incredible. I don’t remember if I ever thanked Mr. Incredible for his services that week. Each nigh, just after pray partners, I would leave Mr. Incredible posted between my cabin and his while I left for the craft shack. Every night, for fifteen minutes, I would lean again the garage door and listen to hymns. I’m not sure why, but “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” was a reoccurring hit. But those fifteen minutes each night was what I needed to recollect myself before slumber.

Beta’s Failing Leg. My first medical emergency. My cabin was walking together down to dinner when Beta comes running up, “Zeta! Zeta! My leg doesn’t work.” I simply paused and stared at him for a moment. “What does that mean?” He replied, “I don’t know, it wasn’t working and now it does.” “Does it work now?” He nodded. “So, what do you want?” He replied, “I want to go to the nurse’s office.” I didn’t know what authority I had in protesting his nurse request, so I said, “Well, can you walk yourself over there and tell him your leg doesn’t work?” He nodded and headed over.

Later, while I was in dinner line with my cabin, Wolverine came up behind me and said, “Never in my medical career have I heard of a leg not working.”

Staffermation. During our daily counselor meetings, after we dismissed our cabin to the fields to play with our rotation staff, we had staffermations. This was essentially a time where you affirmed some aspect of someone who wasn’t your prayer partner. I had just gotten my cup of mint tea, and was sitting down – trying not to spill why moving and fighting against my nervous PTSD ticks – when heard Dimples say, “I want to affirm Zeta,” and expressed how much she appreciated my dealings with my kids and how much they respected me.

In one sense I was shocked. It hadn’t even dawned on me that other people were watching what I was doing. I wasn’t looking for the attention nor even trying to do my”best”. I felt like those heroes in horror movies who slide under the closing gate just in time. Each activity or event seemed to be completed, “just in time.” There wasn’t a whole lot of “perfecting” as there was “surviving” going on. But in another sense, I realized how much I had forgotten about the community around me. Yes, keeping my children alive was a priority, but losing that community value had, in a way, gotten myself into the situation I was in.


For those who are unaware of Port Redwood’s traditions, the end of every week was crowned by Illuminaria night. Though the staff may not have believed in an alter call for the children, they did want to provide a night, under the stars and surrounded by the redwoods, to peer into the vast creation of the sky, ponder what was learned in the previous week, seek any answers to their final questions, and understand that God is always there for you.

This night, during our last song, each cabin was dismissed one by one. I quietly took my cabin down and around the pavilion. The meadow had a series of glass jars which contained a single burning candle. All of camp formed a circle around the glowing cross and began to listen to Raggs as she spoke about creation, being lights in a dark world, and knowing that dedication one’s life to Christ wasn’t an easy decision. I was always amazed at the impromptu speaking (as I can’t do it to save my life) that accompanied her talks each week, but they never failed to capture the essence of the week and speak dearly to the children.

Soon, the counselors were called to grab a glass jar and take their cabin to an area of the meadow to sit together in reflection of the week. My week was filled with cabin division, difficult and trying arguments, but, most importantly, despite all of that, I was confident that our cabin had come closer together. So this night was focused upon them understanding that despite all of that, we loved each other as God loved each other – we loved despite ourselves.

When we final found our spot, I told my cabin to sit in a tight circle. It was so tight, perhaps someone from a distance may have thought my group was the most loving cabin of them all. We laid almost face to face, with my arms rapped around all of them at once. While this was true – we did love each other – it was to ensure all of them were in arms reach.

I began our illuminaria by telling each child what I loved most about them in being in my cabin and where I had seen them grow the most. And, without any complaint, each of the other children followed suit. We joked about the dumb things we did during the week, talked about our first impressions of each other, understood why we got along so well.

After everyone had gone, and just before I thought I could hold their attention for just a bit longer, Beta bolted. Before my reflexes could catch up with what I saw and could predict, Beta barrel rolled from the group and blasted a fart so loud as to only hail the coming of Lucifer.

That brought our illuminaria to an abrupt end, well almost. After recalling Beta, I told everyone to come around, close again. I told them my plan – it was perfect. We would be super quiet – I looked at Alpha who was already smiling – and repeated, “Super quiet.” And continued, “We will quietly walk over to the craft shack and quietly place our jar on the table, and then we will quietly return to our cabin so as to not disturb anyone else.” At this point they were all smiling. So I emphasized it again, “Guys, if you get confused or lost, remember to stay quiet.” Just as I began to stand up, Alpha jumped up and yelled, “Dog pile Zeta!” And the entire group mobbed me. I began crawling on all fours, with seven children on my back doing nothing short of yelling out laughter, while I was responding, “Shhhh!!!! Shhhh!!! Shhhh!!!” as loud as I could. Knowing that I couldn’t silence them, I grab the jar, said, “C’ya!” and made for the craft shack like I stole something. The children were swarming after me, spilling around all the other groups. We eventually made it back to our cabin not so quietly… but they all made it back.

I dished out our first round of candy for the evening and then sent them on their way to brushed their teeth. One the way out, one of the kids grabbed the remaining back of Kit-Kat singles and asked, “Zeta, what are we going to do with the last of the candy?” There were far too many to split the remaining up among the children, so I told them that when were were finished brushing our teeth, I would have a surprise for them. And then I quickly left to brush my teeth.

Upon my arrival back, I caught Theta in the back of my cabin swallowing handfuls of sour gummy worms. “Noooo!!!!!” I yelled, he almost coughed up his candy and dropped the bag. I felt so bad, but I knew he’d be sick. He’d never grabbed anything on his own before. As I put the candy back on the top of the shelf, the kids had already began swarming around me, asking what was the surprise.

I told them, “I could have you guys jam as many kit-kats in my mouth as you can.” And they replied, “While singing frozen?” What could I say but, “Sure! Why not?” They were ecstatic. Fortunately, just as I got on my knees, Tank came into my cabin, “Lights out guys!” Without skipping a beat, I replied, “Well, guys, that’s just too bad. It’s bedtime!” I’m not sure what came over me, but I thought I was a free man. They all looked to Tank, in anticipation of rioting, while they quickly tried to explain to him my promise and that it would super quick. He just laughed at me and said, “Well, if it’s quick, it should be fine.”

And so the games began. I was singing Let it Go! on my knees, with seven kids jamming almost 15 kit-kat bars into my mouth in front of the men’s staff lead. I also spied Peanut looking over Tank’s shoulder as he stood in the doorway wearing a “what-the-heck-is-going-on” face. Soon after, I put them all to bed, and headed out for prayer partners.

We weren’t sure where Toothless was at, so Mr. Incredible and I had prayer partners on the curb just between our cabins. About 15 minutes into it, it happened. Psy came running out saying, “Theta says he’s going to throw up!” I jumped up from my seat, kicked the door open, flipped on the lights (all the kids were yelling that their eyes were on fire), and ran up to Theta’s bed.

He was laying in his sleeping bag groaning, so I invited him out to prayer partners with me. As I follow behind him I grabbed my towel and a trash bag – the odds of the sour gummy worms making a comeback in the fourth quarter was high. Outside, I sat on curb with Mr. Incredible, wrapped Theta in a towel (in a what I call a baby burrito, so as to ensure if he threw-up, his shirt, shorts, and arms wouldn’t be in the way), and sat him on me knee while he laid against my chest. We continued prayer partners until he was rocked to sleep.

The final morning…

I really didn’t know how much those kids became a part of my life until I had to say goodbye. The parents began coming just after our pancake breakfast. The kids were exciting, the parents were excited, I was excited. However, as I made my rounds to ensure I said my final goodbye to each child before he left, I caught Theta with his mother, father, siblings, and grandparents. “Bye Theta!” I said, as I got down on my knee – I always tried to speak or listen to my children at eye-level. He ran over, almost tackling me, and said, “Zeta, if I come back, I really want you to be my counselor.” I’m glad the the parents and grandparents responded with the appropriate, “Awww,” to drown out my chocked-up, “Thank, man,” with a slight laugh. And there I waved bye as my last child left.

From there I headed to Victory Circle for an end of the week gathering. It was really, in a sense, the victory circle – we were still physically alive, though, perhaps, more psychologically scarred that we led on. Once all the other counselors arrived, the staff handed out awards for the actions of each of the counselors. The first one was Tank. He stood up and held a green mesh and said, “I have the Hula Skirt and it is given to the counselor who danced their way through the week.” I’m fairly certain I laughed out loud because dancing was not the first word that came to mind to describe my week- though many ancients identified a correlation between music and war. “This counselor had a tough week,” I don’t know why, but at that point I started chocking up, “He even took his lunch break to go buy candy and me and a few of the staff wrote letters for them, and I brought it to their cabin during KBAR. The kids were so excited!” Obviously, I knew it was me, but then Tank said, “But you know what was so awesome? Last night as I was making my rounds, I saw him with one of his kids who was sick, rocking him to sleep in his arms during prayer partners.” I began crying at this point. And I remember thinking two things. First, I was so thankful that even to the end, God gave me enough grace to still love my kids who needed it when I was physically and emotionally drained. And second, Peanuts HUGE SMILE as he was trying to not make fun of me – he later mentioned, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry.”

Unfortunately, or perhaps blessingly, there were more moments of crying to come. But those are for future weeks and events yet not had. Until then, I grabbed the Hula Skirt, wiped the tears away as quickly as I could, and conceded to the social pressure as the other counselors began chanting, “Put it on! Put it on!” with the ever so classic Mr. Incredible, “Do it and you’re cool. Do it and you’re cool.”

Things I learned…

  1. In Sickness and in Love.We often go through life enduring some form of drama or another without reflecting or realizing how we have changed in the small things. Sure, the larger picture may seem unaffected as jogging a few hundred yards may not alter your view of the ocean, but we sometimes fail to see the cuts on your feet and hands from the climb or the lost friends along the way. We fail to notice the slight alternations in our decisions – no longer going to an old church, or skipping the local fast food place, or deleting texts from old friends. It’s not until we take a moment to pause, to reflect, to somehow receive a personal update on ourselves that all of sudden it dawns upon us how much the world around us, and our thoughts within us, have changed.It wasn’t until I had Theta upon my knee, wrapped in a towel and my arms, and told Mr. Incredible, “Where were we?” that I simply reflected, “This was why I was here.” While I would not have admitted it then, one of the reasons I came to Redwood camp was an attempt to reshuffle my cards a bit and try to glean whatever it was I thought God had for me. In the truest sense it was a blessing because it was nothing more than a simple reminder of how far I had traveled from home and that it was time to return. It had at one point been so easy to love unconditionally, but by circumstance, or unreflected living, or whatever we desire to call the formation of unconscious habits, I was consciously reminded for the rest of camp of a single question: “Am I loving those around me unconditionally?”Below, I have reproduced a poem I had found during high school which inspired my dedication to living unconditionally. I remember reading it and thinking that something so utterly simple and so fully encompassing of my experiences must be worth remembering and living out:

    “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
    Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
    Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
    Succeed anyway.

    If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
    Be honest and frank anyway.

    What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
    Build anyway.

    If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
    Be happy anyway.

    The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
    Do good anyway.

    Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
    Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

    You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
    It was never between you and them anyway.” – Mother Teresa (Dr. Kent M. Keith)

  2. It’s Easier to Divert, than Dam, a River.I never wrote this in my journal, but it was something that I carried on into other weeks and ended up explaining to the Camp Director when he asked me what have I learned so far. I replied, “There is a difference between a kid being a kid and a kid being disrespectful. And what makes it such a flimsy rule is that what’s ‘being a kid’ to one is ‘being disrespectful’ to another.” It’s learning how to navigate that often sea of shifting sand.My children were hellhounds, furies, harpies, anything from Hades’ domain. But I had realized that it was only as bad as I made it. I had children that acted, well, like children. They were full of energy, possessed an infinite well of devious plans, and laughter. And I was faced with a choice: either I find a way to allow them to express their craziness or try to cage them up and feel the full wrath of bounded energy. I chose the former. Of course, yelling at program staff, “Your stupid!” for not selecting us for lunch was inappropriate, so I told them they could yell any chant of their choosing as loud as they possibly could. No you couldn’t run through the dining deck and try to slide into other children, but you were able to climb the decent sized stump outside and jump over each other (yes they got hurt, but it didn’t stop them). No, it wasn’t okay to stand up during the middle of team introductions and scream that the other team were a bunch of racists for having white face paint, but it was okay to have a war cry during the game and be passionate about winning. I actively sought ways to be loud and exciting… and for the most part it brought joy to our cabin.

Quotes of the Week…

*On our way to breakfast*
Alpha: “You know how I know you’re Italian? Because you slick your hair back.”

*During Cabin Time*
Omega: “Why does Cody always talk about girls?”
Beta: “Because all of you guys are a bunch of girls.”
Me: “Why don’t we talk more about Zeta?”
Beta: “Your nuts?”
Me: “No, not my nuts. Let’s talk about how awesome I am.”
Beta: “No, you’re lame.”
Psi: “Zeta is so awesome you can’t even understand it. I’m speaking logic, guys!”

*While playing the treasure collecting game*
Some Camper: “This is the worst mistake I’ve ever made in my life.” [Referring to his face paint]
Me: “Oh this won’t be the worst mistake you’ll make in your life…. Oh, guys, I’m sorry, I should be a bit more encouraging and positive.”
Omega: “Zeta, don’t worry about it; You teach us the life lessons we really need to know.”

*Upon walking out of the cabin and seeing Beta’s face – he had to have done something wrong*
Me: “Do you know what Tank and I have in common?”
Beta: “Yeah, a bad haircut!”
Me: “You know what’s even scarier? We can tell if you’ve done something wrong just by looking at you.”

*During dinner, I asked what professional sport they would like to play and why*
Beta: “Football because I want to *blows a kiss* with the girls and drive a Ferrari.”
Me: “(seeing it as a teaching moment)…. Beta, what about girls do you like?”
Beta: “Dem thighs.”
Me: “Okay, Beta, imagine a girl liked you only for your money. What would you do?”
Beta: “Drop her off in da woods.”
Me: “Now imagine if you only liked a girl for what she had. What do you think she would do to you?”
Beta: “She’d probably drop me off in the woods… or taze me in the balls.”
Me: “Well Beta, you better be careful because you’re probably getting tazed.”
Psi: “Zeta, this conversation is weird, can we talk about something else?”

Memories from Week 0 :

The problem with memories is that they don’t always come together in the same way as they were experienced. It’s like climbing a tree, you just grab the branches that happen to be nearby and then, when you look back down from the top, you can’t always trace your path back to the ground. Here are a few moments I don’t want to forget but should be reminded from week 0.

  1. Towards the end of Week Zero there was a scheduled hair cut session in the boys bathroom. Not knowing anyone but Peanut, I thought it would be a golden opportunity to talk to whoever was there. When I arrived Tank was just finishing up Fumba’s buzz cut. We didn’t really talk about a whole lot except that a buzz cut would probably get them through the entire summer. However, just as Fumba was getting up, in came Rocket, “Buzz cut time!” He pulled off his shirt, “There’s only one way we’re doing this.” Tank replied, “Are you seriou-” and off came his pants, “Yep! Naked! I don’t want my shorts getting dirty.” “I’m out!”Just as I walked outside, Mr. Incredible walked in. I don’t remember what he did, but I could hear him, “Oh! It’s one of those haircuts.”
  2. On one of the nights when Fumba tried to show us how to light a fire (I say “tried” because it didn’t really happen without extra doses of lighter fluid), I got to speak with Wolverine about his life, his ups and downs, and what God had in store with him. I really enjoyed the conversation and understood why he was here. But a thought kept creeping into my mind – is wolverine going to be a man’s man, someone I can look up to, or a boy’s man, someone that’s trying to rediscover his life and just be another counselor.  This memory meant most to me, as any first impression memories, because it was a starting point in which I could back and think, “Oh, how much things have changed.”

Zeta and his Titans

Week 1 Highlights:

Week 1 Staff Highlights:

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less: