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BYC 2023 – Resilience

“I know there’s gotta be rain if I want the rainbows. And I know the higher I climb, the harder the wind blows
Yeah, I’ve gone to sleep night after night punching a pillow. But do you know the darker the night, the brighter the stars glow?”
– “Resilient” Song by Katy Perry

Twenty-nine years ago, Willis was one of the kids I guided at the BYC. Now, he’s a senior honorary advisor at the camp, and he always sincerely tells me that I created all this. But whenever I hear that, I can’t help but feel a bit guilty and perhaps ashamed. The counselors nowadays have much better mental resilience than I had back then! I was just a kid who refused to grow up, like Peter Pan, seeking to escape the adult world through this summer camp each year. But looking at the current counselors, many of whom were former campers voluntarily coming back to lead this camp, it’s heartwarming. BYC is more than just any regular summer camp; it’s a mark on my life, a generational legacy, and a safe haven where people can feel at ease, even if it’s only for four days each year.

A few memorable events occurred during this year’s camp, and I feel compelled to write them down. 

Seeing My Past Self

One day, a counselor’s family member barged into the camp area due to a conflict between generations. As the elder family member had ties with the Jade Buddha Temple and was familiar with the Bodhi Center, he stormed into the kids’ activity area from the kitchen, loudly demanding the young counselor to apologize in front of everyone. As I watched from the sidelines, initially unsure of the situation, my concern was solely for the well-being of the children. I followed the elder, afraid that he might escalate the situation further. Joey, the camp director, tried to communicate and intervene, but it only provoked more yelling and anger from the elder.

At that moment, as a parent watching, I just wanted the angry old man to leave the scene as quickly as possible to prevent any uncontrollable scenes in front of the children. I couldn’t understand why Joey allowed the young counselor to bring his unresolved family dispute to the camp, potentially putting all the other kids at risk. But after talking to Willis in detail, I understood that Joey had done everything he could to prevent any potential conflicts, but the visit from the elder family member was unexpected. Joey wanted this young counselor to stand up to his family’s objections and lead the campers because he believed this place and these lovely people should be a safe haven for everyone, free from prejudice. Moreover, this young man had been one of his students, and Joey knew him in a personal level, knowing he needed this special summer camp experience to grow and find redemption.

I could sense how much self-blame Joey carried when I, as a parent, questioned his decision. When I expressed my raw emotions without any pretense, tears welled up in Joey’s eyes, and I felt a deep sense of empathy. Later, I apologized to Joey for my initial reaction because, in the end, I fully supported his decision. I believe he is an excellent and responsible camp director. These young people are more considerate than I had imagined and selfless than I ever was.

When we returned home, my kids asked me about the incident, and I explained the context and what happened. I told them that I shed tears that day. I asked them if they knew why I was being upset. Vee, being perceptive as always, responded, “Because you felt that the yelled-at counselor was like your past self.” and she was right.

A Sanctuary of Acceptance

The second incident happened on the second day, I think. A group of volunteers, including several parents like myself, were busy preparing water balloons for the kids’ water balloon fight on the third day. As parents, we naturally ended up forming a group and worked together to fill the water balloons. Being parents, we couldn’t avoid discussing children and education. I’m not sure how we got to this topic, but one of the dads mentioned how he couldn’t stand the normalization of transgender and homosexuality in education, making them artistic and trendy symbols. I asked, “What’s wrong with letting kids know more about them? Homosexuals and transgender individuals have made significant achievements and contributions in the art and fashion industry. How can you criticize them for being good at what they do?”

Another mom continued with examples of how allowing minors to choose their sexual orientation changes their behaviors and how transgender people entering women’s restrooms leads to more crimes. The dad then added that many statistics show a higher crime rate among homosexuals. He even gave an example of someone he knew who turned gay after being sexually assaulted by his platoon leader during military service. I couldn’t help but respond with a bit of frustration, “The ones breaking into women’s restrooms and sexually assaulting others are criminals and pedophiles, why do you categorize all homosexuals as criminals? Isn’t the crime rate higher among heterosexuals not the other way around?”

The dad then asked me, “Nowadays, many young people proudly identify as homosexual. Do you want your kids to think cripple and deaf as a fashion trend too?” Hearing that, to be honest, my heart was already filled with sadness and anger. I replied directly, “Why can’t homosexuals or transgender individuals feel proud of their self-identity? Why do you compare homosexuality with being disabled? Do you think homosexuality is physical impaired or mental defected?” The mom’s expression changed, and she quickly explained that she didn’t discriminate and she also had gay friends. I told her, “Then you should have more acceptance for your friends who are different from you, rather than labeling them as disabled or criminals or take away their rights. As the majority with heterosexual orientation, shouldn’t we care more about the rights of minorities? There are many restrooms that are no longer separated by gender, isn’t that great?” I couldn’t hold back and continued, “To be honest, the only reason I wouldn’t want my children to be gay or transgender is because I fear they’ll have to face unjust and prejudiced criticism like what I heard from you, and feel disappointed with this world. ” 

The atmosphere became tense, and there were even more biased remarks that left me dumbfounded and critical, which I won’t go into detail about. Later, when I ran into those two parents, I always felt somewhat awkward. I think this is also why I have always clashed with parents from my generation and the older generation. I can’t control myself when it comes to expressing my disapproval of certain views or stand up for something is right. In our conservative and closed-off generation, my thinking often gets labeled as Misfit, just like how some teachers in Taiwan categorize me as “parent who hold unusual ideas”. But all I want is for my children to be happy, healthy, safe, and content, what’s so unusual about that?

Because of this incident, I specifically consulted Venerable Hong-I privately about Buddhism towards homosexuality/transgender and how to express different viewpoints when encountering sensitive issues that require confrontation. “Should I speak my mind or keep my mouth shut?” Venerable Hong-I told me that Buddhism has always been inclusive and never excluded anyone, including different realms, homosexuality, and transgender individuals, who are all accepted. Learning Buddhism is about accumulating merits and virtues, regardless of sexual orientation. He said it’s essential to firmly express one’s standpoint on the right thing and not to force it if the other party can’t accept it; you’ve already conveyed your stance. Though I felt uneasy, I had to go out and talk to that dad one evening after the camp activity ended, to explain that having different opinions and discussing them is a good thing as it allows us to hear different perspectives. Maybe he couldn’t accept my words at that moment, but I believe that our next generation will be even more diverse and accepting than our generation.

In fact, this summer camp is the best testament to that. From day one, I noticed one young counselor I believed had returned from last year, who spoke softly and differently from the rest. On the last night during the candle light ceremony, she went in front and thanked everyone at the camp for accepting her unconditionally. Looking at these young counselors, campers and peers, I saw that they were far better than we were. Those parents, even myself, often criticize and judge people who are different from us, even judging our rebellious past selves. The kids and young friends at BYC showed me that our next generation is even more wonderful than we can imagine.

Photo Gallery for BYC Summer 2023

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