“What I Did At Camp.” Or, “How I Became a Nude Model at 40.”

I flew to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago to Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp.  When she announced she was having one I knew I would go.  Just like you know when it’s time to quit a job or eat lunch.  Then Patti asked me to come teach yoga at camp, and suddenly going to camp wouldn’t cost me anything except time.  Of course I said yes.  Cancer taught me to say yes to big adventures as often as possible, and sometimes when it seems impossible.

I planned the class I was going to teach, but other than that I did not plan anything for camp.  I did not research the resort, make a packing list, look at the schedule, or pay much attention to who was going.  My “plan” was to show up and have fun and be authentic and open.  This, I have found, is the best plan for life because when I try to map out every detail, accounting for variables and road blocks, stuff happens that gets in the way and completely shuts off that path.  When I pay attention to the divine flow and where it’s leading me things work out much better for me.  (See my previous 847 posts about cancer).

I showed up.  I was authentic.  I kept saying yes and having crazy inspirations about what the next right thing was.  The first night I met a woman named Sharon.  She is a sixty-six year-old breast cancer survivor who is five years out from treatment.  The next day I met Martha, a fifty-five year-old breast cancer survivor who is also five years out.  By the end of the first day I was meeting a photographer named Keith who’s first wife died of breast cancer.  He is a gentle, sweet soul, and within five minutes of meeting him I asked if he would be interested in taking pictures of my scars.  He said yes, and that I should come to his studio sometime.

“Sometime” in another state was not going to work for me.  I also realized that maybe I needed a little posse for this project.  So I asked these strangers who were really sisters if they would be willing to do a shoot with me.  And I asked Keith if he would be willing to shoot us at camp.

It seemed unlikely that I would ever take my clothes off for a camera.  I don’t even like the lights on during sex, for God’s sake, and those are fleeting moments which are not recorded for posterity.  And with someone I love who probably isn’t even thinking about my cellulite. I don’t have long legs.  My arms aren’t particularly toned, although underneath those floppy, wavy arms there are some strong biceps.  And now I have a road map of scars on my front side, fifty-two inches in all.

I’m betting Sharon and Martha didn’t think they would be posing in the buff, either.  Yet there we were.  The three of us with no shirts on.  Our arms around each other.  Our warm skin touching.  We weren’t even wearing make-up.

And there was Keith, gently telling us how to stand or what to think about to elicit the face he was looking for.  I was having a hard time with the non-smiling face because I always think I look severe in photos when I’m not smiling. Then Keith’s wife, Ren, said to think about what got me through all those horrible treatments so I thought about my kids and how I persevered so that I could be here with them as long as possible.

When we finished the shoot Keith asked if we wanted to take off all of our clothes and do a shot completely nude.  If he had been anyone else I’m sure we would have all said, “No way.”  But because he is who he is it was okay.  The next thing I knew we were all three standing there naked, with our scars and our cellulite out under the lights.  And our hearts were out, all of them.  There was laughter and love and healing for us all.

I can think of many more things to write about from camp.  How the talent show was awesome and made me wish I was a little braver in the area of performing in front of people.  How I met some beautiful souls at camp that I can’t wait to talk with, hang out with and collaborate with. How the speakers were so insightful that I will still be processing some of what was shared when I go to camp next year.  How sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich from room service eaten with a friend under the covers while having girl talk is better medicine than anything else.  Oh, and I went ziplining!  You’d think that would be my headline from camp:  “Cancer survivor flings herself from trees while sitting in a rope harness and hanging on a bendy line!”

But the headline for me is that I bared my scars.  In the light.  With strangers who weren’t really strangers after all.  And it was more than okay.  It was a holy moment.

This is a self-portrait I took for photography class in college. I was naked but you can’t tell because it was a study in moving objects. Maybe one day we will share the pictures from camp. That day is not today.

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