In the summer of 1990, I did something that forced me out of my comfort zone. I had just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in English from Emporia State University and I was planning on pursuing a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling at the same school, but that summer I wanted to do something different. There wasn’t a whole lot of job experience on my resume at that point, so after seeing an advertisement about the need on campus, I decided to apply to be a counselor at a camp for people with disabilities. Many of my friends offered words of encouragement. “Who better than you, Lorraine, to show kids what is possible for their lives,” said one. “This way you can mentor other people in the same way that people mentored you when you were in high school, said another.” So, when I was offered the job a few weeks later, I was feeling pretty confident.
That job was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was used to doing what it took to get myself dressed in the morning, but assisting other people with that task? I had no clue. I had never had a problem with feeding myself, but even that proved to be a challenging task as I had to assist other people who wanted to eat breakfast during the time that was allotted for me to do the same. But the most surprising thing to me was some of the attitudes that I encountered. Due to their various disabilities, many of the adults that I worked with at camp had been unable to pursue things that they wanted to do. Therefore, I was an easy person to resent. And because it took me longer to perform my basic job duties, the other counselors were not my biggest fans either. Logistically I did less work then they did, and it took me a long time to finish the things that I could do.
But the biggest challenge came in the middle of the summer. For a week, the campers were kids with asthma. They didn’t want to listen to me and they could simply walk away if I was saying something that they didn’t want to hear. There wasn’t much I could do about it. As the summer continued, the temperature rose along with my level of frustration.
One day I was leading the kids in arts and crafts and the plan was to make sand art. That is pictures using glue that is on a piece of paper and then covered in colored sand. The whole thing was pretty cool from my perspective. The sand came in many different colors and some of those kids were pretty darn creative, so I was excited to see what kind of pictures they would come up with. I had one warning for everyone. Be SURE to put the excess sand back in the appropriate jar for that color. Otherwise, we would end of with twenty jars of brown sand and the next group of kids would not be able to do the same activity. On that particular day, there had been some significant backtalk as I tried to tell the kids what we were going to do, and I had to break up two arguments between kids who didn’t like each other. I am pretty sure my sigh was audible as I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
One of the boys was putting the green sand he had used back in the jar with red sand. I would like to say I handled the situation well, but that would not be true. “What are you doing?” I screeched. “Did you not hear me say not to do that? Now I don’t know if we are going to have enough sand for the other campers and I have to say that I am feeling pretty darn disrespected right about now.”
I had reached my limit. I was angry, and I was letting this kid know it.
His eyes got bigger with every word he heard. When he spoke, it was very quiet. I could barely make out what he was saying. “I’m so sorry, Lorraine. I am red-green colorblind.”
Oh, my goodness.
I wanted to sink completely into the floor and erase his memory of the last five minutes with the shake of a magic wand. I was overwhelmingly mortified in ways I am pretty sure I had never been before.
I went over to that boy and I asked if I could hug him. When he said yes, I told him that he had been a victim of my very bad day and I apologized for taking my frustration over other things out on him. His smile told me that it was okay and that I was forgiven. I messed up that day, but I learned a valuable lesson.
Things are not always what they seem.