“Hey!” I don’t make eye contact. My head is buried in socks and underwear. I stand in socks and underwear in the lamped cove between my rickety bunk and the wall. Sarah’s over in her space, the same. I speak in commands disguised as questions which doesn’t make any sense because Sarah’s my friend. “You gon’ play your guitar tonight?”
I don’t treat Sarah the way I should but no one tells me so. We counsel teenage gals at a youth camp. Roommates of the strangest kind. She’s a musician of the most moving variety; writes lyrics embedded in melody lines that will melt your heart out of your body right through your very pores. And I respect her gifts like you wouldn’t believe. Which is the thing, you wouldn’t believe it because I hardly act in such a way.
The authority in our cabin is up for grabs. Sarah’s in charge, responsible for the soul care of seven nine year-olds for these five days in the Hiawatha National Forest. I hold their lives in my hand, but only while their little prepubescent bodies splash and flop around in the water and sit sandy butts on the beach. Sarah never sets her alarm, I squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom and roll it up when it gets low; Sarah swing girls upside down, making them laugh, without covering the corner of the dresser with her hand, I double-knot my gym shoes when we play kickball. Sarah’s in charge, but I pretend to be.
I love Sarah at this point in knowing her, but I don’t know her all that well. I’m too bold, with a deep capacity to hurt her, especially with my words. She thinks I’m out of reach, even risks hatred in misunderstanding me. Or maybe one day she’ll just give up. I always think I’m the better friend to her and soon I’m going to find out how I crush her with that arrogance. I wear my sunglasses inside when there’s something I don’t want to share. I tend to hide. Sarah hates that.
Sarah doesn’t have me figured out today, but she’s waiting for me to ask her to play. She will. She’ll close her eyes and fill our cabin with music that she wrote. She brought her guitar back to the cabin, I see. Does she think I don’t see?
While she shuffles around the room, I sit in wait by her bunk, my journal an extension of my own hand. I’m taking notes, recording our movements, writing the memoir of our lives down as we create it. Every breath, every tear. Each awkward moment. Sarah sits across from me like we’re waiting for still something else.
“Uh, I don’t like to face you when I sing.” I’m uncomfortable as she says so, but unoffended. Unwillingly, I part from my notebook, pages and pages of this life in scenes, to show Sarah something about the beach.
Every day, I sit for four hours on a lifeguard stand made of four by four’s. Just me, my swimsuit, and pair of basketball shorts, saving lives in Jesus’ name. My job is like kinetic energy: holding this world as we’ve always and ever known it in the balance, trained to breathe life back into bodies fading to gray, but spending most of my time kicking back behind sunscreen and shades on summer afternoons. I don’t do a lot in the day-to-day, but I’m equipped to change the world in a big way, and quickly.
When the clouds roll in and the kids run up to the Sweet Shop to play games and get cavities, folks climb up the ladder to the lifeguard stand and we’re all equal. We bury authority in the sand. Without chairs or cushions, the staffers and I, we create furniture out of everything on the lifeguard stand and on the lifeguard stand there are only bodies. We lean and lay and listen to the lake hit the wet sand. We all look at the sunset or the storm creep across the thunderclouded sky.
And because there is love in this mess of limbs on the lifeguard stand, when Sarah is uncomfortable looking at me, I become the place where she leans or lays and plays. And so with her guitar against her chest, and her to me, and my back flat on the beam holding up this cabin, we sing broken lyrics about broken people and nothing is hidden behind shades or shadows.