My camera focuses. I’ve almost got the shot, but something’s not quite right. With a twist of the wrist and a tug, I pull the lens off the camera and pop it in the small black bag hanging on my waist. Inside the open compartment, my fingers brush over each lens, not taking my eyes off the trees in front of me. Slowly drawing the wide-angle-lens out and snapping it onto the camera with a satisfying click, I grin as the picture all but creates itself. Now in the frame are the mountains to either side, restraining the trees as they try to escape the valley. The shutter clicks, and I check the shot before heading to the camp dorm.
My eyes open to the sight of a dirty ceiling. I’m two weeks and 2,300 miles away from anything familiar, 50 new faces and names to remember, 100 eyes seeing the world in their own unique ways. I think back to a trick I learned the first time I went to camp when I was twelve. I grab the wide-angle-lens that I think will best allow me to be open to each of their views, and I get to work memorizing their names and faces.
Max, a lanky, athletic kid with a similar build to my own quickly becomes a rival leader in every activity. I say stop, he says go. I go left, he goes right, and now I’m stuck arguing with him over the direction of a group project. As the group begins to struggle with our competing ideas for the start-up company we’ve been tasked with forming, I realize I need to take a step back and readjust my focus, perhaps use a different lens. To me a business has always been about maximizing profit, but Max pushes me to recognize the environmental costs in every decision we make. Together, Max, the group, and I accomplish our task and formulate a plan for a new company.
I was twelve when I first realized I would need new lenses to really see the world. I’d found myself at camp for the first time, holding hands with strangers in a giant circle, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and overwhelmed by people with far different backgrounds than me. It was difficult for me to look past the personas I’d assigned to the other campers that stemmed from our first glances and impressions. I couldn’t really know them without first seeing past my own limited story. The counselor in the middle of this circle pushed his wire-rimmed glasses further up his nose. I let out a little chuckle when I realized my granddad had those same glasses. My twelve year old brain raced at NASCAR speeds through every memory of my granddad and those glasses. Granddad loved telling stories, many of which he’d gathered from people he’d met in his life. When telling these stories, he would often nudge his glasses up in much the same way as this counselor. In my mind, I placed those aged lenses over my eyes and, for the first time, saw that group of people through my granddad’s eyes. They were no longer strangers and unknown faces, but instead were all unique stories to hear.
Now, it’s 7 years later, and this year’s camp is ending. I head back to the place where I had taken that picture of the trees just two short weeks before. Looking through the camera I notice the scene has changed. The mountains still restrict the trees to their valley, but now I see the trees as a source of oxygen while I take in a deep breath. As a hawk circles overhead and a squirrel leaps into his hole, I see natural habitats in front of me. There’s no need to take another picture. I smile at the realization that I’ve added another lens to my little black bag.