Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

RP 6: A Friendship Story

For my final response paper, I thought I’d tell a friendship story relating to the arts. Back in elementary school, I was mortal enemies with this boy in my grade named Nate. I can’t remember the reason why, and there may not even be a reason. We just despised each other as much as a fifth grade boy can despise another fifth grade boy. That slowly started to change when we were forced to learn to play the trumpet.

Every student at my elementary school in fifth grade had to learn an instrument and play in the band. Somehow, Nate and I both chose the trumpet. Band class was awful. My teacher was beyond incompetent (he only knew how to play clarinet and assumed it applied to every other instrument), but somehow we ended up surviving the class and the teacher.

Cut to the summer after sixth grade. I was still playing the trumpet, and Nate’s mom contacted my mom about a summer music camp in Oregon. I decided to go, and Nate and I became roommates for two weeks. I don’t remember a lot from it. We were horrible to our counselor, and the music teachers:  we sprayed Axe all over the dorms, threw food in the halls, woke people up at night, and caused overall mayhem and misery. But we had a lot of fun and for some reason were allowed back the next year.

Unsurprisingly, at this music camp we played music. A lot of music. For three to four hours every day, we had to sit still and play the trumpet. It was hard for us, being small, annoying children and all that. Working together was also incredibly difficult. Nate and I still did not get along very well, and trying to work together on something you don’t quite understand is difficult, to say the least. Work together we did, however, and we went back to camp for the next five years – until we were offered counselor positions of our own. Finally we could be tortured by small children and try to teach them difficult music ourselves – it was a dream come true. This summer we will return as counselors, and hopefully the year after that.

Outside of camp, we started to hang out more. We went to different middle schools and high schools, but Nate lived just two blocks from me, and soon we were friends outside of music camp as well. Thanks to our parents more or less forcing us to appreciate and respect each other, and thanks to the institution of music camp that forced us to work together to achieve our goals, we learned all of those things, and became much better people because of it. Nate and I are still friends today; we talk every week, and I’ll be seeing him as soon as I fly back to Portland. We’ve had good and bad times together (as all friends do, of course), and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

This summer in late June to early July, we will return to that music camp that forged our friendship to hopefully help other young, like-minded kids do the same. Being a counselor for young children is one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime, and the atmosphere of camp is as close to an atmosphere of institutional friendship as I believe you can get. We support each other, eat with each other, and learn with each other for two weeks away from the distractions of the world. Sibyl Schwarzenbach stressed the importance of civic friendship in her works, and after experiencing and appreciating a culture where this civic friendship is so prevalent you can fully understand how a world that worked by the tenets of civic friendship would operate.

Camp really functions as a family. We wake up together, eat all our meals together, and study music together. It may be a music camp, but I like to think of it as a friendship camp first and foremost. Music is just an outlet we use to promote friendship, and every time a group of students starts an impromptu jazz piece on the porch in the afternoon, or someone helps another person learn their part outside of class time, or includes a student in an activity, you can see friendship come alive.

I appreciate this story and this camp more than I can possibly express here, and firmly believe that the best parts of friendship we have learned in this class can be found in both places. After taking Friendship Studies I will be able to return to camp and better work towards the goal of an institution of friendship. History and the past is essential to deep friendship as Todd May and many others have said; friendship is born of a narrative yet also helps create more. This is a real-life example of this: through becoming friends with Nate I can better help my kids at camp foster friendships of their own.

If I could pull a single lesson from this story I would say that a past of conflict can turn into a future of friendship. When we have systems in place to cultivate friendship between opponents, exactly that will happen. This is why I believe in music camp so much; I have firsthand experience of how it can change you. If everyone in the world went to camp every summer, maybe we would all be happier and more friendly people.

Bibliography

May, Todd. Friendship in an Age of Economics : Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism. Lexington Books. 2012.

Friendship: Perspectives from Religion, Politics, Economics, and Art. Lectures. Mahallati, M. Jafar. 2019.

Schwarzenbach, Sibyl A. “Fraternity, solidarity, and civic friendship” in AMITY: The Journal of Friendship Studies. 2015.

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