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Letters to John #4: When a Camp Staff Member is Critically Injured

August 29th, 2008 · No Comments · Crisis Response, John Murphy

Reposted from my the guest book entry at:

Camp staff member, John Murphy, fell from a 4th story window (not at camp) in the early morning hours on Saturday, July 19 2008. We know that John and his dear friend (also a staff member) had gone to bed and John must have gotten hot in the night and tried to open a window that was stuck and he lost his footing. He is in a coma and very critical condition due to the severe head trauma. Updates can be found in the journal at this site.

John MurphyFRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2008 12:25 AM, CDT

Dear John:
As it does every summer, camp came to an end. It is a day we looked forward to and yet didn’t want to come. All the staff, who held each other together through this summer, scattered across the world to embark on the next phase of life. Sure, everyone will try to stay connected online. . . but it is not the same. New routines settle in place, new friends replace those of the summer . . . as we all keep going on . . . always knowing those new friends just don’t know what we all went through these last 6 weeks. We tell a few of our non-camp friends, they lend a sympathetic ear, but they just don’t seem to understand. It is not for lack of trying. They didn’t know you and can’t begin to feel the same loss we do.

The frequent cheerful question of September, “How was your summer? How was camp?” is met with a pause as we think, “Do they REALLY want to know? Can they listen long enough to hear us describe our grief? Will they be able to respond with the level of emotional connection we crave or will it just be some tragic story to them where they feel forced to say how awful this all is?” It has become much easier for me to answer the question with a simple remark and a smile, “It was fine – the kids had a great time.” For some, I may add the extra line, “It was a harder summer than usual.” This is enough to pacify the majority of questioners.

As a camp director, I really do judge the summer and my success simply: Did everyone go home safely? Every summer up till now I answered the question, “How was camp this summer?” with “It was great! No one died. No one got hurt.” It may sound trite to the non-camping professional but until that last camper and staff member leaves safely at the end of the summer, my job is not done. This summer I can’t say that. Even though your accident did not occur at camp, I feel a tremendous burden for you and all the staff during the summer. Knowing you are still in a coma and seeing your friends grieve makes my heart heavy.

So, as everyone asked this week, “How was your summer?” I mostly said, “Fine – the campers had a great time – I had a fantastic staff team which really helped us all pull-off am amazing program for over 2000 kids.”

What I wish I could say is, “This was a tough summer. We had a beloved staff member injured in a tragic accident. There were moments during those first days where we didn’t think he was going to make it. I had to ask a group of young adults, many his close friends, to pull it together because 400 kids were coming to camp that day for fun and merriment. And pull it together they did. In amazing ways.”

Unfortunately, being that honest about what it was like this summer sometimes still produces tears. Needless to say, only a few close friends have received that most truthful response. Everyone else just thinks it was all “fine.”

We are all very excited about your transition from Highland to Kentfield. Your family keeps us in the loop about the events of your day. Meeting your family has been one blessing in this tragedy. It has been easy to see how you acquired this blend of a gentle heart, care free love for life, and a conscientiousness I rarely hear mentioned. Most of the stories your family has shared with me involve you using your grace, charm, and humor to make the most out of any situation. It is so obvious how much joy you bring to your family. At work I didn’t often see you try to finesse your way in and out of situations. Well, except for you just showing up the day before camp started – needing a job. It was your buddy Torin, putting his reputation and own job on the line to vouch for you, that got you in to Blue Camp. It payed off for all of us. You were always the guy with a sarcastic sense of humor dedicated to doing good work. You shrived to meet expectations and were proud when your efforts were acknowledged.

Getting to know some of your friends has also been a blessing in this tragedy. They say you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps. It is no surprise that so many of your friends have rallied on your behalf: organizing, visiting, praying, and holding each other up. Many of your friends have learned that the faith of their youth is not what they need to sustain them as life throws them these challenges. The faith they had as teenagers had sustained them . . . up till this point. Now they need a deeper/new faith . . . to move it to another level to deal with life. Little do they know that this is true your whole life; the faith you have for one year isn’t what is going to get you through to the next year. Faith expands to handle what gets thrown at you . . . but at certain times . . . like now . . . too much is getting hurled – all at once – way too fast.

Be well John Murphy – May the ultimate cornerstone provide you (and your friends/family) a rock of refuge and a foundation for healing.

Jennifer Selke
Berkeley, CA
United States

Additional John Murphy links:
John’s “thanks for letting me work at camp” video
John in the 2007 Camp Dance Off
Letters to John #1: July 23, 2008
Letters to John #2: August 2, 2008
Letters to John #3: August 9, 2008
Letters to John #4: August 29, 2008