Camp Woodland Blog

Anne Jordan’s Love – You Want To Pass It On

Posted by on July 30, 2019

by Alice Lurain (shared at Anne Jordan’s memorial service on March 18, 2018, and again at a remembrance for Mrs. J as part of Woodland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on July 13, 2019)

Grab a tissue!

A survey of the framed photos on my bedroom dresser reveals the faces of the people who have touched me most deeply and persistently over the course of my lifetime. You will find my parents, my sister, my two dearest friends from childhood, one of whom – The Other Alice – many of you know, and you will find Anne Jordan.

Mrs. Jordan first entered my life in 1985 when I was a 9-year-old camper in Silver Birch. I loved everything about camp – sleeping in a cabin, constant activity, skits, songs, attention from older girls who seemed so cool, and the fact that I could wear my favorite blue velour sweatshirt every day, and no one cared. Despite this, at some point in that summer, around week 4, I sent my parents the following letter, which I found last spring in their basement. It reads: “Dear Mom and Dad, I like camp but I miss you too much to stay. Please come get me or ask Gramma and Grampa to. This isn’t a joke. Love, Alice.” Apparently, my parents called Mrs. Jordan when they received this dire rescue request, because I also found the wonderfully thoughtful response that she wrote, reassuring them that this was normal and not cause for alarm, that she had checked on me and found me having a wonderful time. She wrote, “I can assure you that she will not be sorry that she completed the season.” This was the first of many times when Mrs. Jordan knew me better than I knew myself.The following summer, I was a 10-year-old Treetopper. One day, on the way back to the cabin after lunch, I was talking to another girl about one of our cabinmates in that mean, catty way only pubescent girls can, when Mrs. Jordan walked up behind us. She said my name in a calm, quiet way that stopped me in my tracks and made clear I was about to be required to account for my actions. I still remember the feeling of absolute mortification I felt as I turned to face her. With her steely gaze upon me, she said simply, “That wasn’t very nice.” I stammered out some sort of apology; it seemed as though she let me go on in flustered agony forever. Then she said, “Alice, you need to think about what kind of person you want to be in the world. What do you want people to say about you when they talk behind your back?” Over three decades later, that question still echoes in my head during moments when I am tempted to do something petty, ignore someone’s feelings, or just take the easy way out of a situation.

Throughout my childhood, into young adulthood, and well beyond, Mrs. J always brought out my better self because she let me know that she expected that self to show up, and I never wanted to disappoint her. I still don’t. Patient, unflappable, and insistently calm under fire, nothing ever seemed to surprise her. She let us know that she would still love us when we inevitably screwed up, but she would also hold us accountable. With Mrs. J, there was always a second chance, but never a free pass.

She believed that what young people most needed and wanted were limits and a safe space in which to test those limits, surrounded by adults who supported their growth with grace and humor. She taught me that the children are always watching us and made me believe that working with young people was both an incredible gift and responsibility. I’ve been a high school chemistry teacher for nearly 20 years, and if I trace back along the winding road that led me to the classroom, I find Anne Jordan at the beginning. Both consciously and unconsciously, I have, in many ways, modeled myself as a teacher after her. I enjoy knowing, for example, that students find me both hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, and I work very hard to let them know that I care deeply about who they are as people, that I see them.

Also in my parents’ basement, I found my notes, written in my 17-year-old handwriting, which shows slight improvement over the 9-year-old handwriting, from Mrs. Jordan’s lesson to the staff on “guidance techniques.” Among these pearls of wisdom are: tell them what you want or expect; don’t lose your cool – stay calm; when things are not going well, stop and start over, and a perennial favorite, don’t just do something, stand there. In my most challenging moments with students, I channel her calm; I say, “Maybe you didn’t hear me…”

I often wonder, as I’m sure many of you do, what my life would have been like if I had never found my way to Camp Woodland and Mrs. J’s watchful presence. What kind of person would I have been? So profound is the impact on my character that I am not able to imagine what that alternate Alice would look like. Through Mrs. J and Camp Woodland, I learned that actions have consequences, that sometimes it doesn’t matter what YOU want, and that you really ought to clean up after yourself, because that job wheel keeps turning, and eventually “clutter” is going to end up on your name.

Mrs. J and Camp gave me the chance to be unreservedly silly. By the time you’ve proudly worn underwear on your head or a bathing suit over your clothes for reasons that have been lost to time, led rousing renditions of the Ricket-an-doo (now what is that?!), and written and performed camp-themed lyrics to Billy Joel songs while dressed in a polyester bell-bottom jump suit, you’ve discovered that pride and self-respect do not preclude you from acting like an idiot and enjoying it.

Mrs. J and Camp gave me the gift of understanding that serious work and serious fun should be the cornerstones of a joyous and meaningful life. Long after I left Woodland, Mrs. Jordan remained a consistent presence in my life through the regular exchange of letters. I wrote to her about moments of success, failure, self-doubt, and learning. At some point, she could no longer write back, but I still felt a certain happiness and comfort in telling her my stories and imagining how she would respond.

I know for certain that Mrs. Jordan lives on in me, and I work every day to pass on the gifts she gave me to the young people in my life. As all of you know, it only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with Mrs. J’s love, once you’ve experienced it; you want to pass it on.