By the time I was ten-years-old my parents had hammered into my head the importance of telling the truth. Away from their influence, though, I forgot and suffered the consequences. It all happened when my cousin and I were at Camp Fire Girls camp for a week. The first evening there we unpacked inside our bunkhouse and readied ourselves for the nighttime activity. Only my cousin convinced me that the activity would be boring and a long walk away and we’d be better off staying in our bunk. She had a plan how we could do that.
I was an asthmatic child and had come to camp with my weekly allergy shots that the nurse in the infirmary would give me on Monday morning. My mother had explained to our counselor that I was allergic to dust and feathers and a whole list of particles that flew in the air.
“Tell her,” my cousin referred to the counselor, “that your asthma is bothering you and you need to stay here. And I’ll say I want to keep you company.”
My cousin didn’t force me to do what she said. She didn’t even threaten me to follow her idea. Even though I really had no objection to the activity I let myself be talked into the plan. The counselor wasn’t very sympathetic but agreed I should stay in the bunk by myself and rest up. Her response to my cousin’s desire to keep me company was rejected outright.
As I watched my co-campers stroll down the path to who-knows-what my bunk seemed awfully empty and lonely. Always a bookworm the idea of reading didn’t even appeal to me. Making a quick decision I jumped off my cot, opened the screen door, and sprinted after them.
“I’m feeling better now,” I declared to my counselor.
The look she gave me was one of pure disgust. It was unfortunate for me that this counselor, probably no more than eighteen-years-old, had never learned the important verse in Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 15. Do not do injustice in judgement, do not favor the poor, do not honor the great, judge your fellow man justly.
Volumes* have been written on this verse alone. Instead of seeing my lie as one isolated incident in my life the counselor judged me as a sly, deceitful liar. There were no thoughts of extenuating circumstances or benefit of the doubt. I was pronounced guilty.
What followed was a miserable week for me. For five years I’d already been sleeping over at friends’ houses on a regular basis and spending a week without my parents by relatives in Oklahoma every summer. Never had I been homesick, until that that camp experience.
The postcard I wrote my parents read Last night I dreamed that I was in the family room with you and Lady (the dog) and I was so happy. When I woke up and knew it was a dream I was sad. That postcard arrived home after I did.
I’d survived that week but I never went away to camp again. I’ve never forgotten how miserable that counselor made me feel. It’s probably that memory that makes me feel so connected to the commandments we learn from that verse in Leviticus. Seeing a child misbehaving, a woman pushing her way in line, or someone talking on their cell phone during a lecture often remind of the lying little girl I was once and how I didn’t want to be judged.
To the counselor’s credit she taught me something big. Despite my parents’ admonishments to tell the truth I never really understood that a lie would sooner or later catch up to me. What my parents had tried to hammer in my head she succeeded in entering into my heart.
I suppose I should feel grateful to her for the lesson but the truth is I wish she had tried to understand me better. After fifty-three years I guess the time has come to forgive her.
*The Other Side of the Story by Yehudis Samet is an excellent book about this subject.