Golda and the Three Bears
At the age of seventeen, Golda Fischer was preparing for her first girls camp as a youth camp leader. She felt the weight of the assignment, a sacred obligation to give the younger girls experiences like she’d had. In her mind, it was a great honor and trust to serve in the Young Women organization. As a member, she had seen a thing or two. After all, back when Golda was a Beehive, Clever Gretele was the ward’s Young Women president. Those were days never to be forgotten! (Thanks to a quick trip under barbed wire during a grueling countryside game of capture the flag, Golda still had a scar on her calf to prove it.) Through advice and adventures, Gretele had shown her how to grow and flourish. She had taught her what it means to sustain leaders and live with a little faith.
At Golda’s very first young women activity, for example, Gretele had divided the girls into two groups and introduced a game. The rules were simple: each group was given an everyday object and instructed to go into town. They were to spend the rest of the evening making a succession of trades for something bigger or better until time was up.
Golda was immediately repulsed by the idea. She disliked talking to strangers, couldn’t imagine who would want her group’s starting comb anyway, and wished she had just stayed at home with a book. But Gretele noticed and asked her to give it a chance.
“Not even God can steer a parked car,” Gretele said. “If you want him to lead you, you’ve got to practice hitting the gas. Give him something to work with.”
Golda unleashed her most skeptical glare. “Does it have to be something so stupid?” she asked.
“Of course not,” said Clever Gretele. “But it helps.” She threw an arm over Golda’s shoulders and leaned in, like they were sharing a secret. “If you get shy, just pretend you’re someone else. As far as anybody knows, you’re some other girl who doesn’t care at all what they think.”
For a newly-jaded twelve-year-old, the thought was appealing. She would never have admitted it, but Golda’s first attempts at a cool apathy took a lot of work. It was hard to always seem old enough and smart enough to be above things. She constantly worried that she would slip up and get caught liking something childish or simple. But if she had permission to experiment with a genuine, pure apathy—not just about things but also about people’s opinions of things—how could she resist?
Golda immediately resolved to take Gretele’s advice. For a few hours, at least, she would pretend to be fearless. She’d refuse to overthink. If she was a car in need of steering, she’d burn rubber. Give God a challenge.
Apparently, God accepted. By the time the evening was over, the other group had a large German shepherd, her group had several hundred zlotys in cash, and Bishop Levy had a lot of questions.
Golda had thought back to those questions many times over the following years. During an activity, she might hear his voice in her head, asking things like “Did this have some kind of purpose?” and “You didn’t break any laws . . . did you?” So long as she could answer those questions in a way that satisfied the bishop’s standard, she decided not to worry about the rest. She figured her role was to listen to what her leaders said and dive into trying it. It was like Alma said in the Book of Mormon: you should experiment with the word. She realized, of course, that a person might have qualms about the way the Young Women organization in her formative years operated sometimes like a business, sometimes like a charity, and occasionally like a gang. But she trusted that everything gave her experience and worked in some unseen way to her good.
That basic confidence was what she wanted to give the younger girls. She wanted to teach them how to say yes to things and see where adventures led them. Unfortunately, the organization of the Church stood in the way of passing on tradition. If she had still been working with Gretele, they could have run some numbers, found a way to play with the budget, and made some real memories. But the Lord who gives callings also takes them away. For the past two years, Golda had been adjusting to the very different approach of the ward’s new Young Women president, Mirele Schwartz.
Was it even the same religion now? Sister Schwartz never let Golda near a budget, was strongly opposed to even the slightest trespassing, and never came to a planning meeting without already having a plan. Golda still wanted to sustain her leaders, but it was easier to do so when that meant running off on adventures with Clever Gretele than when it involved keeping up with Sister Schwartz’s elaborate ideas and the ideals behind them.
More recently, the bishop had also called Tzipa Leicht to serve with the young women. Golda liked Tzipa well enough as a person, but she was hard to relate to as a leader. Tzipa seemed less interested in making plans than in responding to them. If Sister Schwartz wanted to do too much, Tzipa erred on the side of willingness to do nothing at all. Golda sometimes got the impression that Tzipa wouldn’t have minded if they skipped camping altogether and just gathered to talk for an evening instead, because that would leave fewer things to go wrong.
Shifting between the two of them gave Golda whiplash. One ran hot, the other cold; she wanted to spew them both out. But she tried to keep an open mind, like Clever Gretele would have wanted her to. The purpose of life was to grow through trials, and the Church went to such lengths to organize them for its members. It would be a waste to walk away from all that. So she promised herself to be a good example. Instead of acting like a parked car, she would throw her energy into sustaining whatever her leaders wanted. If—and the closer camp crept, the bigger that if grew—the two of them ever settled on a shared goal for her to support.
Unfortunately for Golda, some people treat their callings like doing alms, where the left hand is not supposed to know what the right hand is doing. In the weeks before camp, each of Golda’s leaders was preoccupied with finishing preparations of her own.
What was going through their heads in those final weeks? Nothing that nudged one any closer to calling the other.
Tzipa was almost done with all the preparations she had planned. In keeping with her goal of preventing any unnecessary deaths, she had studied how to handle the most common crises that could afflict teenagers in the wild: dehydration, blisters, bullying, and bad food. She was also prepared for secondary risks such as heat stroke, snakebites, and razor fights over time in the shower.
Tzipa also kept up her efforts to master the full names of all six girls who would be attending. Getting a written list into her brain had been simple enough, but consistently matching each with the right girl was harder. Golda Fischer was easy enough to remember. As a youth leader, she was pure gold. Chava was as full of life as her name suggested; she was also obviously a Gottstein-Kleiner, with all her mother Gretele’s mildness and all her father Heshel’s sense. (Tzipa might have switched those two, but God had his purposes.) Even though Zusa Cohen and Perla Schwartz were not officially members of the Church and rarely made it to activities, Tzipa could remember that Zusa was as sweet as her grandparents were sour and that shy little Perla was her mother’s hidden pearl.
The real challenge was distinguishing between the fourteen-year-old Levy girls. It was a week before camp when Tzipa finally pinpointed a difference between Bluma and her twin sister Bina. The trick was in the eyes; Bina was far less subtle when she rolled them. All Tzipa had to do was wait for Mirele Schwartz to begin speaking and sooner or later, the twins would reveal their identities. With that mystery solved, Tzipa felt ready to go.
Mirele Schwartz was far less satisfied with her preparations, in part because her goals liked to grow. Having chosen the theme “Forty Years in the Wilderness,” for example, meant that she had to fit ten years’ worth of scripture-based activities into the meager number of hours God had set aside for each day. Thank the Lord that God had given the world stopwatches! Even that blessing, though, was mixed, because it took a long time to plan four days down to the minute. And it took longer still to come up with back-up plans for each minute in case anything went wrong.
She had to hurry. The calendar was merciless as Pharaoh, the day of departure rushing in like the waters of the Red Sea. But the final, desperate effort was worth it for God, for herself, and for her daughter Perla, who would be coming to camp for the first time.
Especially for Perla. Mirele’s husband had not joined the Church and so girls camp was one of the best chances Perla would have to connect with the girls of the Chelm ward and learn the gospel. Mirele was not about to let that opportunity go to waste. She would put her shoulder to the wheel. She would push.
Well, the scriptures say that all rivers run to the sea, but the sea is never full. And so it was with the leaders’ planning. The afternoon before their final preparation meeting, both Mirele and Tzipa got a series of text messages from Golda Fischer. Before they left, she said, she wanted to get a few simple directives on what she was supposed to do. She expected both the leaders to agree on each of these guiding points. And she would allow them exactly three.
Tzipa sighed and called her president. It was going to be an interesting night.
One short coordinating phone call, several prayers, and two longer follow-up calls later, Mirele Schwartz and Tzipa Leicht were ready for their meeting with Golda Fischer. From across the table, Golda weighed them in the balance with her eyes.
“We’ve agreed on three priorities,” Mirele reported. “We’ve found a scripture for each, so you can have them from the mouth of three witnesses.”
“I’m listening,” said Golda. If those two and the scriptures could agree, she would do anything.
Mirele set her scriptures on the table between them, but rather than opening any given volume, she put her hand on the top of the stack as if swearing an oath. “The first priority comes from the opening chapters of Exodus and the eighteenth chapter of Mosiah,” she said. “In Egypt, and therefore also this week, the children of Israel were made to carry heavy burdens. And the Book of Mormon says that at baptism, we promise to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light. As a youth camp leader, that’s one thing we want you to do.” She met Golda’s gaze. “Especially for Zusa Cohen and my daughter Perla.”
“Of course,” Golda said. “I’ll carry backpacks. I’ll listen to worries. I’ll try to remember your plans.”
“Thank you,” Mirele told her. She moved her Bible aside and laid her hand directly on her triple combination. “The second priority comes from Alma chapter 30 as well as from Mosiah 18. When Korihor challenged the prophet Alma and said there is no God, Alma told him that all the universe is evidence of God’s existence. As we go out into the beautiful forests of our country, we want you to bear witness of God at all times, in all things, and in all places.”
“I’ll do it,” Golda vowed. “Even when the weather sucks.”
Across the table, Tzipa was leaning back on her chair. “The third thing comes up in a weird story about the prophet Elisha,” she said. She brought the front legs of her chair down and leaned forward. “We want you to watch out for bears.”
“Bears?” Golda asked.
“There aren’t very many in the woods where we’re going, but they’re attracted to the smell of food. If it’s left in the tents, a bear might reach in and maul somebody. By mistake, of course,” she clarified, “but still. So if you’ll tie all our food up in one of those beautiful trees God created before we go to sleep at night, you’ll finish all three jobs at once: Bear a burden. Bear witness. Keep us safe from bears.”
Golda nodded. “I can do that,” she said. She let out a long sigh of relief. At last, she understood how to sustain these two.
Before the sun rose the next morning, Golda threw her backpack into a rented van and set off for four days of immersive sisterhood. On the drive out of the city, Golda Fischer began leading the other girls in songs. It was a tradition, she’d been told, that dated back to when Miryam and Israel’s daughters danced with their timbrels on the Red Sea’s shore. The lyrics, obviously, had evolved since the original celebration over drowned chariots. But there was still a girls camp song about a princess—perhaps a daughter of Pharaoh?—and sinking ships. And another one, though it never used the word “plague,” about a lot of frogs and grubs. By the last song, Chava was singing comically low, Bluma was singing comically high, and Bina was laughing and warning she might pee her pants. Golda basked in the joy and success for exactly the amount of time the official plans allowed before Mirele Schwartz led them off on their first hike.
Golda was not sure where they were going. Despite her best intentions, she hadn’t gotten that far into the weeds on the planning details. But she set to work at once with her various kinds of bear-ing. No one needed her to help with their backpacks yet, so she decided to begin with getting the others to witness the glory of God’s creation.
Bluma dived into the subject with a headlong enthusiasm Clever Gretele would have been proud of, though the part of creation she was most willing to praise mostly involved a few boys back home. Bina bantered back with gushing odes to actors from her favorite movies while Zusa listened with as much interest as her modesty would allow. Chava was less accommodating, and could be unpredictable when bored, so Golda got her running off the trail to bear witness instead of the breathtaking diversity of local animal droppings. Chava regularly reported back, speculating on the foods that had passed through various birds, rodents, and bugs. At one point, she also ran back to report that she had found scat from a raccoon dog.
Through all this, Perla mostly kept her eyes down. It was hard for Golda to tell if her youngest fellow camper was half-listening to the talk of boys and bowels or pondering God’s work creating her feet. Golda made a few attempts to draw her out, but Clever Gretele was right: it was hard to steer a parked car. After a while, Golda let her focus shift to witnessing the beauty of the forest while also scanning the trees for telltale scratches from wandering bears. She couldn’t see any, but the forest was large and bears likely didn’t make a habit of hanging out close to the trails.
Up ahead, Sister Schwartz kept a brisk pace. Golda did her best to encourage the others along, and they seemed pioneer-willing to walk, and walk, and walk. After a long time, they arrived at their campsite and stopped walking long enough to set up tents. It took a while to sort out how many times the poles were supposed to cross over themselves and what general sort of geometric shape the tents were supposed to have. But with a little effort and without any swearing whatsoever, they finished tents that seemed stable enough to stand through the night.
With a glance toward her watch, Sister Schwartz told them to take all the tents down again.
It didn’t make sense. But Golda supposed it wasn’t illegal and so figured that Bishop Levy and Clever Gretele would agree that she should push ahead. To calm the rebellion rising in her chest, she decided to pretend to be someone who wasn’t worried about getting all the tent poles lined up right again. Using her most supportive voice, Golda invited the other girls to race each other on the take down. After all, God could only guide you if you moved.
Which they continued to do, as soon as they packed up, heading onto the trail and wandering through the wilderness. Golda steeled herself for another long walk. She was a youth camp leader. She could pretend to be someone who could do this. And she could make her faked willingness contagious.
As she led the girls in slow circles, Mirele listened carefully for complaints. If they were to follow the literal word of God, it was important that this hike continue until the girls murmured. Frankly, she had expected some murmuring to begin as soon as she told them the tents needed to be taken down. But there was no such luck.
It was puzzling. Maybe these young women were so used to the Mormon ritual of setting up and taking down chairs that the tents didn’t faze them. Maybe it was because Golda normally took the lead in any questioning and she was trying strangely hard to be supportive. Mirele began to regret the whole burden-bearing speech, because in Golda’s silence, no one else picked up the slack. Mirele had planned for this possibility, of course, and she tried her backup plans: she brought up unpopular subjects, she pushed the pace up uncomfortably, she looked around as if she was lost. And what did she have to show for it? Her own exhaustion. She wanted more than anything to set the tents up again and lie down in one for a rest, but they had not reached their emotional destination. So she continued to lead the girls in circles, a silent prayer in her heart that someone’s good attitude would crack.
Tzipa kept shooting dark looks at Mirele and interrupting the fastest parts of the hike for breaks to check on how the girls’ feet were holding up. For a moment, Mirele hoped that the hiccupy rhythm of her sprints and Tzipa’s stops would drive the girls sufficiently crazy, but they continued to withhold their murmurs. Chava was too busy running off the trail to look at this and that. Bluma and Bina kept chatting lustily with anyone who would listen, and Perla was too shy to say anything at all. Zusa asked once if they had missed a turn (or perhaps taken one turn too many, or even several too many) but her tone was so polite that it couldn’t really be counted as a complaint. And so onward they pressed, ever onward. Mirele was beginning to suspect that their hike would devolve into one eternal round.
And then—miracle of miracles—Bina’s stomach finally gave an audible growl. Bluma heard it and laughed, which was just the spark the group needed. Bina snapped back that it was not funny: she really was beginning to starve. Chava reached into the week’s supplies and produced a block of cheese, which Golda snatched away, saying that it was for meals. Zusa asked when mealtimes during camp would be, which caused Golda to glare at Mirele pointedly and say, “I don’t think anyone here knows.”
For Mirele, that was murmur enough! Seizing the moment, she rushed them back to the campsite. She had them put up the tents again, but this time offered a few minutes to lie down. Let them rest, she thought, and then rise to wonder.
While the girls tried out their tents, Mirele took her backpack off and laid out pieces of flat, unleavened bread all around the campsite like manna. “Come see, come see,” she called out when her work was done. “What is this?”
But when the girls emerged, they did not celebrate the miracle. They just stared, confounded by God’s mysterious ways.
Golda’s muscles were sore, but for a moment lying in the tent, she had been satisfied. She was a good leader. For hours of hiking, she had kept everyone engaged. People said there was no rest for the wicked, and so the release of relaxation had made her feel positively righteous.
But when Sister Schwartz called them out, and their eyes took the scene in, that contented feeling quickly melted away.
A dawning disgust crossed Bluma’s face. “Are we supposed to eat those?” she asked.
For a moment, Golda thought of Clever Gretele’s advice to just try things. But even if this activity had a purpose, and even though eating off the ground wasn’t technically illegal, there were some things she still couldn’t bring herself to do. “Obviously, we’re not going to now,” Golda said. “We’ll just appreciate them with our eyes.”
“They look like they were quite good before they all fell in the dirt,” Zusa pointed out charitably.
Bina picked one up. “Maybe we could wipe a few off?”
Her constructive attitude left Golda feeling some mixture of impressed and annoyed, but it seemed to rub off on Chava. “Or we could use them as bait to trap an animal,” she said, moving into action with alarming speed. “I brought a knife. We could make a fire. ”
Apparently, though, the food wasn’t only about eating. As Tzipa looked on morosely, Sister Schwartz tried to explain that the manna was a symbol of spiritual as well as physical nourishment. Just as this manna would feed them after their long hike, the words of the prophets could nourish them on the long hikes of life.
Golda missed the old nights crawling under barbed wire. “I was hoping for something a little less messy,” she said.
Sister Schwartz tilted her head to the side. “Are you talking about the teachings of the prophets?” she asked. “Or do you mean the flatbread?”
Tzipa nodded sagely. “That’s the great thing about a parable,” she said. “They can teach on so many different levels at once.” Then, after glancing nervously toward the forest, she began to pick the manna off the ground and put it into a trash bag. “I’ll get out the rest of dinner.”
Golda offered to help, but there was a different burden to be carried first. Chava was terribly disappointed that no one wanted to catch and cook a wild animal. Since Golda doubted that Mirele Schwartz would see the spiritual value—or Tzipa the essential safety—in a roasted raccoon dog, she felt a responsibility as youth camp leader to draw Chava’s energy toward some nobler purpose.
Chava felt comforted about being denied an evening hunt when Golda suggested that she could still help build a huge bonfire. Apparently, it was a symbol of the pillar of fire by night in the scriptures, and a little pyromania was allowed if it was symbolic. It also helped her mood that they feasted on cheese and fruit as greedily as if it were the word of the Lord. Chava’s sorrow was no match for the mix of savory and sweet.
After their breadless dinner, when Tzipa suggested they tell scary stories, Chava’s heart moved the rest of the way from heavy to thrilled. Beyond the bright ring of their fire it was dark, darker than the streets ever get in Chelm, with the outlines of the treetops looming in the not-so-distance. There was just a little wind, not enough to be uncomfortable while still being enough to make a paranoid person wonder what might be moving out there. Oh, it was perfect.
But the moment didn’t last. Sister Schwartz went first—and it turned out the scary story she wanted to tell was about the children of Israel and the angel of death. And honestly, it just wasn’t as good without any firstborn sons around. Bluma stretched. Bina yawned. Even Zusa could only barely pretend to be interested. After Sister Schwartz finished, Chava was the only one who wanted to keep the stories going.
She tried to start one about girls in the woods disappearing, but everyone had an excuse for why they couldn’t stay. Golda said she had to tie their food up in a tree first, and besides, she was tired and sore and just wanted to finally go to sleep in the tents they’d set up so many times. Perla nodded gratefully at the suggestion. Even Bluma and Bina were willing to go along with the movement toward bedtime—that is, until they found out they were assigned to the same tent, at which point they interrupted Chava’s story by arguing with the leaders.
“We share a room at home,” Bina complained. “Why can’t camp be different?”
“I don’t see why it can’t,” Tzipa said. She looked to Sister Schwartz. “We can be flexible, can’t we? Bina can move to the other tent.”
“Of course,” said Sister Schwartz. Her only condition was that if Bina moved to the other tent, someone would have to move back to the first.
That was not a problem—Perla immediately volunteered, and they switched her to the first tent, but then Sister Schwartz wanted to switch to be with her daughter. And apparently, there was a rule that the leaders needed to be in the same tent, so Tzipa had to switch, too, which put too many people in the first tent—so they moved Golda to the second, but then Bluma wanted to be with Golda, which combined the twins again, so Bina switched another time, and this time Zusa offered to switch along with her so she’d have company, but again that put too many people in the first tent, so they planned some switches again until no one was entirely sure who was sleeping where and they all had to go space it out to see and Chava was left without anyone to frighten.
Or was she? While the others stumbled into one tent or the other (or, frankly, any tent at all) and fell gratefully down into their sleeping bags, she slipped away from the fire and out toward the woods. The scariest story, Chava realized, was the kind no one realized they were listening to. The kind told not with words, but with strange noises in the night.
Chava couldn’t decide what it should be about. When she was a child, she was scared to death by an old Jewish story about a bride who attacks her groom because she’s possessed by the spirit of a man who used to be in love with her. But as she got older, ghost stories stopped scaring her as much. After all, she’d learned at Church that ghosts are just lost spirits waiting in the spirit world for the missionaries to come and teach them. To scare her friends, she needed something from this world. From these woods.
As Chava thought about nature and creatures with teeth that make noise in the night, she remembered the food in the tree. Golda had said there probably weren’t any bears around, but also that no one wanted a hungry bear smelling food in their tent. Reaching inside. Raking its claws casually across a human stomach while looking for a treat. The thought gave Chava shivers. It was wonderful.
Well? She could be a bear, or at least sound like one, if she tried.
She crouched in the darkness, a stone’s throw from the tents, and made a low growling sound. But no one in the tents stirred. She went closer and growled again.
Inside the tent now, someone was turning. “Do you hear that?” she heard Zusa ask. “What’s that noise?”
“It’s probably just Bina’s stomach,” Bluma said. “Or Sister Schwartz snoring.”
A stomach? Snoring? Chava needed to take some time to get into character. If she felt like a bear, she would do better at sounding like a real bear. Soon enough they’d scream. Unless she scared them silent, petrified with fear.
First, Chava practiced walking through the woods, feeling big. She tried moving with her front paws on the ground, searching for something good to eat. She grunted a bearish grunt. Then she stood on her hind legs and swayed back and forth, like she imagined a bear would, sniffing the air.
There! Up in the tree, she could smell it. Delicious. Yes, that scent up there reminded her of fat for the winter and a good month’s sleep. Any thoughts of moving closer to the tents to scare human girls fled as Chava’s stomach growled in a very bearish way. She moved closer to the tree and grunted again, but the pack with the food was out of reach.
What would a bear do? It would climb. And so Chava began to. It was hard to find the right footholds in the dark, and her claws weren’t nearly as sharp as they should have been, but she managed to make her way up the trunk and onto the branch the pack was hanging from. From there, it was a simple thing to reach in and grab some snacks. A little munching made Chava’s stomach feel better, which made her feel more like Chava. But she wasn’t ready to be Chava again yet. She still wanted to be a bear.
As she thought about what to do next, it occurred to her that a bear wouldn’t climb a tree just to unwrap a few of Chava’s favorite snacking foods. No, a wild animal would make the most of this opportunity. She would eat with the next winter in mind, gulping down the fattiest things she could find. Chava reached into the bag again greedily and came back with a stick of butter in her paw. A bear would definitely eat the butter. Chava could feel it turn slick on her hands, then soft on her lips. Yes, with this she would grow heavy and strong and all the other bears would be jealous of her. She let out a great and joyous growl. The other girls were surely hearing that, trembling in their tents while they zipped the doors tight. Chava liked being a bear.
A bear would eat more and more. Dried fish. Fresh fruits, juice dribbling down her chin. Pure sugar. A bear would shove all of it down her wild maw. A bear would not shimmy down the tree until she was satisfied. Ah, but soon she was: so very satisfied with her victory.
What would a bear do next? It was clear to Chava by the time her feet hit the ground that a bear would mostly feel sick. She would stumble around the woods a bit in a stupor. Yes, just like this. The butter would slide around her stomach. Chava didn’t think bears were actually made to eat straight butter. It would churn terribly in there, mixing with the fish and fruit and sugar. A bear would try very hard not to throw up.
The camp was quiet when Chava got back. She had scared everyone to sleep.
In what was purportedly the morning, Golda was the first girl Sister Schwartz shook awake. It was time for the sunrise hike, she said.
“Another one? Already?” Golda asked.
This was the first sunrise hike, Sister Schwartz said. Yesterday’s hikes had been in full daylight and it wasn’t her fault they’d taken so long to do their part in finishing those.
Golda wanted to ask Sister Schwartz what she was talking about, but she was so tired. Chava had slept restlessly: the sounds of her moaning had briefly woken Golda more than once during the night. Also Golda’s body was so sore that lifting her tongue felt like an impossible amount of work.
Golda wanted to inspire her friends to give every experience a try. Maybe getting out of bed would help Chava, since her sleeping bag clearly hadn’t agreed with her. Maybe a sunrise over the forest would give Bluma and Binah something other than boys to think about. Maybe Zusa would smile, and Perla’s eyes would light up. Maybe all they needed was for Golda to lead the way.
She allowed herself to close her eyes for another moment and tried to pretend to be someone who didn’t actually hate the idea of this hike. She wanted to support her leaders. Truly. Or at least, she was pretending to be a good youth camp leader who would want to support her leaders. She couldn’t remember the details for sure.
Her ears, apparently, were working fine. As Sister Schwartz moved from sleeping bag to sleeping bag, the protests of the persecuted grew. Perla said she’d gotten up early yesterday. Chava said she never wanted to move again. Bluma and Bina, having spent the night apart, were feeling homesick. Only Zusa Cohen was willing to go, and Golda thought that even she sounded the tiniest bit reluctant about it.
Golda dragged herself up. She could share the wise words Gretele had shared with her. About driving too fast so that God could steer you. She could tell them to experiment on their leaders’ words and see how it turned out. But as she rubbed her eyes in the ungodly predawn darkness, it didn’t feel like that was what a good youth camp leader would do.
To every thing, she realized, there was a season. There was a time for her to sustain her leaders. And a time for her to speak up for other girls.
“Sister Schwartz,” she said, “I have a question about the hiking.”
Sister Schwartz looked relieved that Golda, at least, was up and engaging with her. “Yes?” she said.
Golda chose her words carefully. Or at least as carefully as she could before six in the morning. “What if we didn’t?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Sister Schwartz asked. “We have a whole day planned! If we lose another hour, I’ll have to multiply by a fraction to keep us on schedule.”
“Sometimes plans leave out important things,” Golda replied. “Like stillness.”
But the idea slid right off Sister Schwartz without a sign that anything approaching communication had occurred. She looked at her watch. “We’re behind already,” she said. “We should be eating breakfast.”
And Golda felt a sudden prompting. As if, now that her tongue was moving—however slowly—God could help her nudge it the right way. “In that case,” she countered, “we’re hours and hours ahead. Look: the girls are so fast today, they’re already ready for bed!”
And without overthinking it, Golda crawled back into the tent and zipped it shut behind her. Sometimes being a leader meant doing what the plan said; other times, it meant doing what was right—and letting the consequences wait until you woke up again. She was happy with her decision. She had lifted a heavy burden from her fellow young women: the weight of being the one to say no.
James Goldberg is a poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, documentary filmmaker, scholar, and translator who specializes in Mormon literature.
Artwork by David Habben.
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