After I finished my breakfast, I took my tray up to a bin where I noticed folks putting their plates. I saw (Marcel?) there, loading a bin of dirty dishes onto a cart.
“Hey, um, thanks for breakfast. I’m so sorry but can I ask you: what was your name again?” I asked sheepishly. “I know you told me when you made me coffee but I’m really bad with names. I know it’s M-something.”
“It’s Michael,” he said, laughing. “But you can make it up to me, if you want. Do me a favor and grab those bins and help me take these to the lodge?” he said, and gestured to another cart full of bus tubs.
“There’s a lodge?” I asked.
Michael laughed again and said, “What—did you think I lived in a tent, too?”
I followed Michael down a path straight-then-left-then-right then straight again, past an open field where some folks were throwing a frisbee, down a hill, over a sturdy wooden bridge crossing a narrow river canyon, and around a clump of enormous trees.
My mouth fell agape as I walked into the open.
There before me was a massive lodge—a friendly fortress made of hand-hewn wood beams, beautifully oxidizing ironwork, and gleaming glass. Some of the windows at the arches of the roof were green and blue stained glass. Through one three-story set of windows I could see an enormous room full of tall shelves of books. There was a huge red deck covered with chairs. I saw dozens of people enjoying conversations in the bright forest light.
A dozen paces ahead of me, Michael realized I’ve stopped. He turned around and caught me mid-marvel.
“Like I said,” Michael said, grinning, “Sure beats a tent! C’mon inside.”
I pushed the cart up the ramp next to the stairs. Michael pushed his cart inside and then held open one of the enormous front doors for you. He took me down a little hallway and pushed the cart through a double-swinging kitchen door.
“We can just leave these here,” he said. “I’d imagine you’d like the tour!”
I’m still completely enamored with this place and can’t wait to explore—but I’ve suddenly got a more urgent need.
“So, is there like a bathroom or something near here?” I asked.
Michael graciously pointed the way. I headed down the hall we had come down and took a quick right and found the room. I walked through the door and found a multi-stall room. I laughed to myself about how I’ve always found it strange that in movies and books no one ever really goes to the bathroom unless it was for the purpose of juvenile humor.
As I took a seat, I noticed a piece of paper hung on the inner wall of the stall door.
At the top of the page, it said:
Community is a journey we take alone together.
Under that page were two lists labeled “Packing list” and “Unpacking list”:
Packing list In this community, we aim to:
Unpacking list In this community, we leave behind:
As I sat there reading the list, I felt my heart stirred. Could a community really be this way? I’d never experienced anything so good.
There was one phrase that especially stood out to me: “Be your whole self.” I knew how many situations and circumstances in my life had made me feel like only one part of me was valuable or worthwhile or wanted. What would it be like to be truly and fully myself in a community? Wow.
Still, the idea of community values hung in such a place was pretty amusing to me.
“Well, I guess they do have a captive audience here!” I laughed to myself as I washed my hands beneath the helpful sign reading, “ALL CAMPERS MUST WASH HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO CAMPING.” Made sense. Even in the woods, hygiene’s important!
I stepped out the door of the bathroom and found Michael playing with a tiny game system.
“I figured there like was, like, no technology in this world,” I said.
“Hah!” said Michael. “What kind of lousy alternate universe would this be if you couldn’t bring A Link to the Past with you?”
“Fair point,” I thought.
“Hey, so I found this whole list of values in the bathroom,” I said. “I like that. Who made it?”
“You did,” Michael said without looking up from his game.
“I did?” I echoed back.
My mind bent sideways and I felt like I’d been sucked through a dark portal. Was I already here in a past life? Was I a clone? Was my alternate reality doppelgänger already here? Was a past version of me abducted and mind-wiped? Was I the incognito evil super-genius who created this run-amok dimension who had self administered some forget-me-now midazolam derivative in order to allow me to pass unnoticed through brain scanners which guarded the door to the room which could turn off the advanced cryptoneural simulation which was running this entire universe?
“Oh god. Do I have time travel amnesia?” I gasped, beginning to hyperventilate.
“Oh! No, no, no. I just mean, people who’ve come here like you did. Sorry, I was distracted. These Chain Troopers are annoying. Yeah, no—that list of values gets created and revised continuously by all the people who’ve come into this camp. By being here, you’re already part of creating and improving it.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. “Makes sense.”
“C’mon!” said Michael. “Let me show you the rest of the lodge.”