April Column Winner

She made better choices after hugging trees
Kaycee Campbell, The Countywide & Sun

In August of 1997, while attending open house at my school, I met a woman who would forever impact my life. She sat at a little table just off the sidewalk between buildings with a sign up sheet for Camp Fire Boys and Girls. She had grey curly hair, bright blue eyes, and the biggest, most beautiful, genuine smile. Her name was Judy Bridges.

Over the next 12 years Judy became like family to me. She taught me so many things. She taught me how to swim. She taught me how to tie various knots. She taught me how to set up a campsite, start a fire and how to cook over a campfire. She taught me how to work as part of a team. She taught me to always “leave a place better than we found it.” Those lessons were intentional.

Other lessons were unintentional and I learned by observing the woman that Judy was. Through her character, her choices, and her life Judy taught me how to lead. She taught me how to love unconditionally and without judgment. She taught me how to look for needs in the world around me and fill them, how to serve others. She taught me not to seek praise for every good deed, but to find joy in bringing joy to others.

But the hardest lesson Judy taught me was in 2007 when she unintentionally taught me how to grieve. She had lived a life full of passion, selflessness, humor and joy, but in May 2007 Judy lost her personal war against cancer.

Now when I think of Judy, I realize the impact she had on my life and the lives of others who knew her. I think of the ripples she created by choosing to do what she could for those around her. By choosing to do what she could for others, no matter how big or how small, she changed the world.

I had a glimpse of Judy over spring break when my husband and I took our little loves camping.

We fished. We roasted hot dogs. We made smores. The kids were enjoying their first camping trip. They were running, playing and exploring their surroundings. They were making memories.

I was sitting by the fire watching them when out of the corner of my eye I caught my son take a rock and slam it against a tree. Without pause or hesitation all-too-familiar words flew out of my mouth. “Hug that tree, until it tells you how to make better choices.”

My son wrapped his arms around the tree and tears welled up in his eyes. Almost instantly I could feel the tears in my eyes too.

I could have blamed it on the smoke from the campfire. I knew it wasn’t the smoke. I had heard those exact words on many occasions. I had spent many camping trips hugging trees. I had hugged those trees until I knew what I had done wrong and was determined to make better choices.

Those words that flew out of my mouth without forethought or hesitation were straight from my childhood. They were straight from Judy. She and those trees taught me a lot of life lessons. They helped me learn to stop and think how my choices and my actions would impact people and things around me.

The tears subsided for me and for my son, but my heart is thankful for all the trees Judy made me hug. It helped shape me into the person I am today.

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