By Carie Levy | firstname.lastname@example.org
My heart raced as I stood atop the tiny platform attached to a tree 60 feet in the air. I had a bungee chord on and I knew it would catch me and keep me safe. Despite this, however, freely jumping off of a platform 60 feet off the ground seems to pull fiercely against one’s natural instincts. Then I noticed something.
I was scared, despite the fact that I could see exactly what was going to happen when I jumped.
But what if I couldn’t see?
It is easier to conquer a fear when you know what challenges it will entail; yet, only five minutes prior, I watched as this very same obstacle was completed by two girls who did not have the ability to see what they were taking part in.
Before it was my turn to try out “The Flying Squirrel,” one of the many activities available at the YoungLife camp Southwind, I watched two young middle school girls climb the tree to the top of the platform and jump. These girls were from the Florida School of the Deaf and Blind where I had just began serving as a YoungLife youth leader.
Both of these girls were blind.
I stood amazed as I witnessed the girls climbing up the tree, listening to us call out instructions from a distance on where the next place they should reach was. On the tree were scattered many small handles to grab and pull up on. These were similar to the kind used in rock climbing activities and had no particular order or placement. Even as I climbed the tree I would have to pause occasionally to contemplate which handle would be the best to grab next in order to pull myself up easily.
Yet these girls did this without their vision.
I couldn’t help but imagine how I would feel trying to climb the tree without my sight. I would not be able to see where to put my hands and feet when climbing. I could easily slip. I would not be able to see how far I was from the ground or the size of the platform I was standing on when I reached the top. I would have no idea how far I would be jumping from and at what point the bungee chord would catch me.
If I had to do that without my ability to see, I probably wouldn’t do it at all.
This was only one of the many instances where I was amazed by the young kids I was helping escort on this weekend camp.
Throughout the weekend I had the privilege of spending lots of time with them. I watched as several students were able to dribble a basket ball and successfully shoot it in the hoop many times. A couple made it in more than I did. They canoed, swam, and played games such as octaball, a game very similar to dodge ball except confined to a small space in the shape of an octagon.
All of these activities they played with sighted middle schoolers, children from other schools around Florida who could see just fine. Despite being blind, they played octaball almost constantly without being able to see where the ball was, listening only to the sound of what was going on to be able to tell when to dodge the ball and where to throw it. Several times, one of them even won the game.
They played and interacted with the other middle school campers who had their vision. They were excited to make new friends.
As the camp came to an end, all I could think about was how brave each and every one of these children were. Here they were, exploring a world they could not see. Playing games with others who experience the world in an entirely different way. And not once did I ever hear a single one complain.
These children were easily some of the happiest and sweetest kids I have ever met. Suddenly, every miniscule thing I have ever complained about, anything I ever gave an excuse not to try or do, and negative thing I had ever wished I could change about myself seemed to become so tiny and unimportant.
These children happily embraced their blindness and didn’t let it stop them from doing anything. These young kids, barely even teenagers, portrayed a sense of bravery that I had hardly ever seen before.
Their supposed limitations didn’t limit them because they didn’t allow them too. How easy would it have been for any single one of them to say, “I don’t want to do any of this because I can’t see?”
Being a youth leader, I expected to be able to give of myself to children. I expected to be able to teach them something. I expected to be able to be a friend and support them. Yet after this weekend camp, I realized they had taught me something. Their bravery taught me that, no matter what seems to be holding you back, you can always embrace challenges with a smile. They taught me to take chances and to not refrain from doing what I love even if I am afraid. They taught me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
They taught me that, even if I can’t see, I should jump.
I became a youth leader with the intention of being a blessing in the lives of children, hardly predicting that they would become such a blessing in mine.