A Long, Long Way (in old blue jeans!)
Americans love their blue jeans! Blue jeans were invented right here in the US by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873. These days they are beloved all over the world, though they continue to be identified with American culture.
Each pair of blue jeans has a special character to it. Even ones that are the same size, make, and style, seem to vary slightly. As we wear them and wash them, they develop even more character: wrinkles appear where we sit, the fabric fades and wears from our wallets and cell phones, the knees fade, and little tears and rips reveal the habits and stories or our lives.
Jeans journey through life with us, becoming a kind of second skin that both protects us from the elements and comforts us with their familiarity and fit. In recent years, designers and jean makers have cleverly tried to imitate the look and feel of old, faded, and even torn blue jeans. Today we can purchase a distressed pair of jeans (for more, by the way, than it costs to buy an ordinary pair) and completely skip the years-long process of breaking in a brand new pair of jeans.
Like many artists, my jeans (blue and otherwise) are a uniform when I’m in the studio. I have pairs that are designated for painting, and each one is faded and ripped and covered in the colors of countless paintings and projects. Each one is a snapshot of what my life has been like and the work that I have done during that time period.
A few months ago a dear friend gave me a new pair of distressed and torn jeans as a gift. I’ve enjoyed wearing them, but at the same time I’ve noticed a difference. The new pair looks good, but it lacks the history that accompanies a pair that I’ve broken in myself. The “faux” worn jeans tell me nothing about the experiences, the lessons, and the life that shaped them.
All of life is a learning experience, a long road that carries us from one age to another. There’s no possible way that we could have gone directly from college to creating and building an organization like CAMP Rehoboth. Steve and I both had to have been exposed to certain circumstances and experiences along the way—including the death of countless friends from AIDS—before we could even see the need for, or have the drive to build, anything like what we have today.
Education in all its forms, both formal and experiential, is crucial to the development of human beings. We can memorize all the facts in the world, but real learning comes only when we are able to understand those facts in the context of our life experiences. Trial and error, and even outright failure, is a powerful teaching tool for all of us.
Back when we started CAMP Rehoboth, we had, I believe, a certain innocence about what we were doing—almost a Judy Garland/ Mickey Rooney “let’s put on a show” kind of feeling. I don’t honestly know if we fully understood what we were doing or not. I do know that the first CAMP lesson for me was learning that the creation of something is only the first step in the process—that to be successful takes work and care and a deep commitment to whatever it is that’s being done.
I say this frequently, and I think that most of the folks on the Board of Directors and in other leadership positions would agree: CAMP Rehoboth has been, and continues to be, an amazing learning experience for each of us. It challenges us to find ways of connecting, working, and sharing with all the diverse people of our community—gay and straight, rich and poor, donors, members, volunteers, clients, politicians, religious communities, vacationers, local residents, and much, much more.
The vision of CAMP Rehoboth calls us to be the “heart of the community,” and like the old pair of blue jeans I wrote about earlier, the heart of CAMP Rehoboth has been rubbed into the fabric of this community. That heart is visible in the places of most use: in the gift of time and energy that our volunteers give to make things happen; in the financial gifts that our members and donors give so generously; in the gentle pride that we all feel because our town is an open, welcoming, and safe place to live and to call home.
At this year’s Sundance, DJ Mark Thomas played a remix of “Pandora’s Box.” The song flooded me with memories, and its haunting chorus continued to play in my head long after the event had passed. “And it’s a long, long way from where you want to be / and it’s a long, long way but you’re too blind to see.”
Those lyrics remind me that whatever it is that we are passionate about—for me it is CAMP Rehoboth—whatever it is that we dream of doing is always in a state of evolution. The more we learn about life, the more there is to learn. In the end, it’s not how much we know, but about how we learned it—how we lived it.
That’s why I like those old blue jeans so much: life is embedded in its fabric. In them we see an imprint of where we’ve been and who we are.
Dig out an old, tattered pair and see for yourself.
Murray Archibald, CAMP Co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of CAMP Rehoboth, is an artist in Rehoboth Beach.