This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip

Summer Beauty

Marissa Patterson

"Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, shehechiyanu vikimanu v'higianu lazman hazeh. Amen" The awkward voices of the 500 campers, counselors, and other staff members around me blend into a beautiful soaring canticle that swirls around me. This is the prayer I sang each Shabbat at the overnight summer camp I attended for seven years, a prayer that is said at any time you wish to thank G-d for a beautiful experience. This prayer that thanks G-d for creating us, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this night brings to a close the busy week of camp, hectic Shabbat dinner and boisterous jumping and clapping of an after dinner song session and begins our day of rest and reflection, of quiet and meditation.

Looking around the room I see the entire camp linked together almost literally. Arms curve around friends and cabin mates, hands clasp between tables, heads bend almost imperceptibly towards each other and the center of the table where the Shabbat candlesticks glow in camper-made holders. For this one night a week the campers intermingle, freed from the usual assigned tables to join with friends and siblings of all ages to form tables of their own, unique for this one meal. Counselors and staff blend together as well, joining with close friends from another cabin to "cover" a table instead of watching their own campers with the counselors from their own bunk. Everywhere you look friends are joined together in this one moment, joined together in a song that has not lost its meaning or its beauty from frequent repetitions.

Roald Hoffmann says that "[beauty] is to be found, precarious, at some tense edge where symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos, contend." 1 Huffman does not find beauty in the commonplace, the usual, the normal. He instead looks for moments on the brink, barely contained in their state and hardly definable.

This prayer, one of the first learned that is not in the weekly service fits precisely into Huffman's definition. The song comes together an inharmonious mix of the practiced altos tuned from high school choirs and the off-key straining of a second grade camper. Two or three song leaders with guitars strum a simple 3 chord accompaniment or sometimes break it down even more, calling for us to sing now with "just our voices." It may appeared to be ordered, campers seated on wooden benches around long white plastic tables, grasping pinkies or palms or with their arms fully wrapped around each other. Not as apparent are the counselors holding on with tooth and nail in an attempt to keep the calm, preventing campers from playing in the wax of the candles or talking incessantly with their neighbor. Somehow this mix of 500 mostly untrained voices can swell together, filling the room with these ancient words and making them beautiful.

Hoffman also says that "beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds." 2 Is the beauty then a "labor of minds" to shut out the joy and excitement from the past weeks experiences to calm down and focus on the peaceful day ahead? No, that is not it exactly. The beauty comes more from an integration of the enthusiasm from the past week with the serenity of the prayer. That melding, that bringing together of noise and silence is the true "labor of minds" that somehow comes easily to campers, channeling their own inner elation into the joyful thanksgiving of the Shehechiyanu.

It is the "labor of hands," however, that made another camp experience beautiful. During the summer after my junior year of high school I participated in a work/study program called Avodah (the Hebrew word for both work and study). Forty boys and girls lived together with unit heads and used our hands to make camp work.

Our chores were menial—cleaning the bathrooms, working in the kitchens, pulling leaves out of the pool. Not exactly the sort of experience most seventeen-year-olds would pay to take part in. And yet it was beautiful. Many of us came from home lives where we were not expected to do any of these things for others, much less for ourselves, and our first experiences helping to do laundry for 500 people were interesting, to say the least. The beauty of this opportunity was that we were able to use "the labor of human hands" to really have a visible effect on the camp community. If we did not clean the dishes, the campers would not be able to eat. If we did not help build the ramp to a structure previously accessible only by stairs, the paraplegic camper in a wheelchair would not be able to take part in the full camp experience. And if we did not clean the staff lounge, where would the counselors sleep during their off hours?

During the course of the summer our sore backs and aching muscles created a beautiful adventure made even more wonderful by its joining with Hoffmann's other requirement—a "tense edge".

Avodahnikim were linked together in a precarious position. Not quite campers, for we were allowed to go into the staff lounge and associate with the counselors, yet not quite staff, for we were paying for the experience and were not able to leave camp alone. Most of the time we felt like staff members, our daily work making the camp run, yet on Sunday nights when we sat in the lounge alone while the rest of the "real" staff sat in their weekly meeting, we were once again put in our places as campers.

The vast majority of participants in the Avodah program proclaim it the best summer of their life. Far beyond their first, when then were introduced to the ways of camp society, excelling the year their team won Yom Sport (the annual color war), greater than the summer they got the lead in project (a musical put on every year by the oldest campers). Avodah was spent on the threshold. It was the last true year as a "camper" and many friends would not return the next year to become staff. We would be returning home to another sort of threshold, the last year of high school before we traveled away from every object and person that was familiar to make new friends and take part in new activities. Each of us knew this was the last summer we would have a sort of communal life, when we were all doing the same thing together and would return to the same world of applications, exams, AP testing, graduation.

Roald Hoffmann states that "beauty is built out of individual pleasure around an object or idea". 3 Each of us had our own unique ideas of what the summer would mean to us and the effects the next summer separated would have. We also had our own plans for the future, our own colleges and life goals. The individuality of each of us coming together in a labor of "human hands" but finding extreme happiness in the progression of the summer epitomizes Hoffmann's quote. We each brought our own ideas and feelings together and participated in making something new and enjoyable, and it was this experience that was ultimately beautiful.

All of the summers I spent at my camp, both as a camper and a counselor I found incredibly beautiful and I am filled with a sense of loss knowing that I will not return this coming summer. My closest friends were counselors with me last summer and this is my first time moving on by myself, spending a summer without them. I would think that the 10 months we spend apart each year would prepare me to leave, but I feel as if I am losing a large part of the beauty I find in my life and my religion.

I will never again be able to experience the beauty of my friends and fellow campers or staff members together, enjoying the beauty of Shabbat, the sound of 500 disharmonious voices blending together, "precarious, at some tense edge," creating a magnificent prayer that one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever known. And so I offer this prayer now, for the beauty that can be found in the loss of beauty, in the memory of a past beauty that can never be reclaimed.

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, shehechiyanu vikimau v'higyanu lazman hazeh. Amen.

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has created us, sistained us, and allowed us to reach this season. Amen.

1. Hoffmann, Roald. "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry." Hyle- International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 9.1(March 2003): 4pp. 20 February 2005 p.4.
2. Ibid. p. 4
3. Ibid p. 1.

| Course Home Page | Course Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:35 CDT