This summer I volunteered at a CAMP camp, or Children’s Association for Maximum Potential camp. Sure I signed up out of my own free will, but I was scared out of my wits about going. I was scared that the kid I got assigned would have disabilities I couldn’t handle. I was scared he or she wouldn’t like me. I was scared of being entirely in charge of another person. I didn’t know that I had a lot more to be scared of.
As a counselor at CAMP camp it was my responsibility to entertain and look after one camper for the whole week. Campers had various disabilities; my camper, Andy, had Down’s syndrome and ADHD. At camp, for the first time in many of our lives, there were more people with disabilities in the room than people without them. At first, this didn’t seem to matter.
Then I realized that this new environment wasn’t peculiar because of the people involved; it was peculiar because it wouldn’t let me do what I had been doing my whole life. Whenever I met anyone, I immediately, unconsciously sized him or her up and put them on the scale of people I had met. Either he or she would be “better” than me, higher on the scale, or he or she was not as good, lower on the scale. This is how I was deciding who I was. I was finding my place in the world by comparing myself to others. And I didn’t even know it.
At CAMP camp this system became very hard to maintain. I wasn’t comparing myself to the campers; they were like a different species. Their compassion, determination, and general zeal for life begged to differ. That’s when I understood that it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to compare myself to them, or anyone else. How could I have thought that they were somehow in a completely different category than me just because I could tie my own shoes? How was it possible that I had been so close minded and so self absorbed?
I don’t know if I am the only one who thinks, or used to think, this way. It’s not the kind of question I regularly ask people. I think it would scare them, the way it scared me. But I have since decided that the only way to define myself is by defining who I want to be and striving to reach that ideal. The benefit of meeting new people is seeing qualities in them that I want to have in myself, like Andy’s adventurous spirit. As a kid I heard the phrase “You can be whoever you want to be” countless times. I always thought it meant that I could achieve whatever I wanted to achieve. But now I think it means that I can pick my place in the world. By being the only person I use to figure out who I am, I can be whoever I want to be.