This past summer, I was a counselor at a summer camp. At the end of the summer, it was an incredible experience. At the beginning of the summer, I was absolutely miserable. On the morning of the first day with campers, I completely lost my voice. As a counselor of 13 rambunctious boys, your voice is the one thing you cannot do your job without.
Oh, boy, what a week it was.
When I first applied to the camp, I thought I had the perfect personality for camp life. But I never considered that I would lose my voice. During counselor training, they taught us CPR, not how to cope with laryngitis. I was in trouble.
I frantically tried “Plan B” for the week. Instead of yelling, I attempted the art of miming. Every answer was a thumbs up, thumbs down or a shrug. “Plan C” was another alternative to talking. I wrote down a large list of commands for my crazy cabin that I frantically pointed to. Overall, it was a horrific experience. Try comforting a homesick fourth grader by scribbling out words of affirmation.
But in my silence (and despair), I was able to grasp a different side of life that would have been impossible had I been able to speak. I simply listened to my campers. I listened to their complaints, their excitement and, yes, even their whining. Instead of responding with jokes, sarcasm or my own personal stories as I often do, I just kept listening. My mouth was shut, but my ears were open to them.
My eyes were also wide open. I sat and observed a lot. I had little patience that week, but observing made me realize that I acted exactly how these campers acted when I was their age — loud and obnoxious. It made me appreciate my childhood and their personalities.
Eventually, I learned the importance of silence in certain situations. At camp, where I had no voice, I had no other option but to listen, observe and reflect.
“Uncle Jared,” one of my campers said. “Even though you lost your voice, I still think you’re the best counselor I’ve ever had.”
Closing my mouth opened my ears and eyes to so much more.
Jared Huhta is a history education major and is pursuing a career in teaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.