I was sitting at the picnic table in the sun, carefully organizing swim cards by cabin, when one of my staff members ran over to me with a look of terror and urgency.
My mind immediately started running through every horrifying possibility. Did a kid drown? Did we lose one somehow? Did somebody get a spinal injury? What was going on?
But it was even worse than that.
One of the campers had a leech stuck on his arm.
Now, I am a tad bit sadistic when it comes to leeches. I love killing them. It gives me a strange satisfaction to watch them writhe in pain until they stop moving altogether. But children do not see them as potential prey, rather as predators who will probably suck the life out of them within the minute. Children don’t understand how easy it is to kill them. And the second one kid comes out of the water with a leech, that’s it – none of them step even a toe in the lake for the rest of the week.
Those damn little buggers. I was the head of the swimming department and it was my job to make sure the campers got the swimming lessons their parents were promised, but leeches did a really excellent job of making my duties significantly harder.
I ran to the swim box and grabbed my trusty salt shaker. “Take me to him,” I ordered the counselor firmly. By the time we ran across the beach to where the victim sat frozen, wide-eyed, with his leeched arm thrust high into the air, I knew it was too late to save my swim lessons. Those kids were never going back in the water.
“NO!” the boy yelped as I reached toward his arm. He swung it away from me. “AAAHHH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!”
The other campers began to form a circle around their screaming, hollering friend. I shook nearly the entire supply of salt into the sand while trying desperately to get at least some of it on the bloodsucking creature that was ruining my life. But even after it was handicapped enough for the still-frantic victim to shake it loose, everyone on the beach was completely out of their minds. Kids were yelling obscenities and running toward the tree line, far away from the water. Counselors were sprinting after the ones who thought they’d make a clean escape under the rope lines. Chaos. My department was lost in utter and absolute chaos.
As I looked at the scene unfolding around me, I was overwhelmed by my sheer lack of control. I had no power to stop that kid from attracting a leech. I had no authority over the gut reactions of a bunch of 8-year-olds. I had no way of calming them down, and no idea of how to convince them that swimming lessons were still a good idea. I was standing in the eye of a hurricane, with no way of directing the wind.
Suddenly, I started to laugh. Fear wasn’t doing me any good. Guilt wasn’t doing me any good. This was a moment of madness, a moment that would one day make a hilarious story (barring some strange turn of events where something legitimately terrible happened). My lack of control meant that it wasn’t my fault. And so, free of the weight of blame, I laughed.
I managed, with the help of my staff, to wrangle all sixty or so kids into some semblance of an orderly line so they could tag out of the swim section. After they returned to their cabins, I performed my normal cleanup routine, picking up lost towels and discarded sand pails. Everything was sane again.
As I plucked the empty salt shaker from the sand where it had landed, I couldn’t help but smile. Oh, tomorrow was going to be hard, I knew that, but today had reminded me of the unpredictability of life. And that was a beautiful thing.