Prior to the past summer in Center Point, Texas, it was impossible to understand the depth of gratitude one owes to accessible capacities in everyday life. During the past summer, I served as a counselor at a summer camp for children and adults with special needs. I experienced everything from wheelchairs, seizures, G-tube feeding, and conversing non-verbally. While observing their daily lives, I came to realize how extraordinarily lucky I am to be in complete control of my faculties and limbs.
My focus detached from self and the work at hand – waking up at five and sleeping at midnight after changing bed sheets and assisting– and shifted to campers. As I sat in shade escaping the heat with a camper, we would talk. It is hard to describe how I felt hearing campers confide their burdens, problems, and obstacles. My feelings entangled between the privileged and the unfortunate. As they opened up, I felt enormous chasm between our experiences. I could relate to their feelings - camp crushes, elation, regret - but their burdens held a weight that I could only empathize. Their stories of bullied or yearning for physical independence awakened me to realize how my problems pale in comparison.
Nestled between the theater and the dining hall was my favorite place at camp – the arts and crafts shack. Its dusty bins of tempera paint, glitter, and glue smelled like home. During staff training, we learned ways to assist campers with motor disabilities to grip and use a paintbrush: hand in hand guidance. As the handle of the brush was placed between the camper’s fingers, a counselor’s hand would wrap around to guide and support the camper’s hand. The first time I felt a hand tightly gripping a wooden paintbrush beneath my own five fingers, I was surprised at the strength. Their resilience and enthusiasm staggered my perspectives. The blankness and freedom I adored about notebooks are eclipsed by the tenacity of these campers.
Most of my campers were flexible and happy. Borders or crisp edges could not contain their creativity. I still remember the infectious happiness of my campers as they covered me in stripes of red and blue paint. Their shouts and laughter saturated the blistering Texas heat.
As I drove home, watching the rolling Texas country recede to the homes in suburban neighborhood, it was hard to shake how permanently I changed. Retreating to my room, able to walk unassisted up a flight of stairs, shower without guidance, and flip my body between the sheets, I was amazed at my previous adoration of possibility, easily taking for granted actions that require so many physical capabilities.
Filling blank notebooks required the capabilities of expression and movement that I only then realized was fortunate to have. Despite the challenges, campers’ disabilities did not dictate their attitudes or ability to create art. Art, as expression and manifestation of emotions, only required their boundless imagination and enthusiasm. When I sit on my carpet and let the dust filter through the sunlight as I flip through my notebooks, the adoration I felt for my notebooks entwine with how I felt at camp – carefree and thankful.