Have you ever had someone make such a profound statement to you that it forever affected the way you view life? That’s the backdrop for this story.
When I graduated from Troy State University (I’ll never call it Troy University as it is now named!) with a degree in mathematics, I was unsure what to do with my life. I wish I would have thought about my choice of majors before graduating, but that’s a topic for another day.
A representative from the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) was on campus interviewing for Space Camp counselor positions, so I thought that sounded like as good an option as any. I interviewed, was offered a job, and began working two months later as a counselor.
Working at Space Camp taught me much about life. In fact, the experience eventually led me to go back to school to receive my certification for teaching.
The real lesson that I learned from interacting with the high school kids at Space Camp was diversity. We had kids from all over the United States and the world. In fact, Space Camp hosts several focused week-long camps: Hearing Impaired Space Camp, Visually Impaired Space Camp, and International Space Camp to name a few.
During Visually Impaired Space Camp week, I gained a much deeper appreciation for the challenges that individuals face in the world. These kids were beautiful in many ways and had an insatiable appetite for learning and sharing their joy for life.
During this week I was taught a powerful lesson about my own prejudices.
Escorting my group from the Habitat (living quarters) to the main activities area, I was having a conversation with one of the visually impaired campers who could not see at all. In reference to another camper, she said, “She is a beautiful girl.”
In my moment of discomfort, I said, “Yes, she is beautiful on the inside.”
The camper said, “No, she is beautiful.” This was not said in a condescending way to me at all – it was simply stated as fact. This visually impaired student just saw the other girl the way that she truly was – it had nothing to do with appearance.
When she said this, it stopped me in my tracks. How dare I qualify beauty? I felt two simultaneous emotions: idiocy and enlightenment. Idiocy at my ignorant qualifying statement and for being so little as to not see her beauty; and enlightenment at what I had just learned from this visually impaired high school student.
A slight shift occurred on the inside of me that day. I’ve tried not to be so quick to judge someone by their abilities or disabilities. I’ve tried to silence that judgmental self and “see” people as they truly are. In a subtle way, this comment deeply affected me and has stayed with me since that day.
Part of intentional living is choosing how to act and respond to the people in our lives. We should daily question how our preconceived notions and, oftentimes, prejudices are affecting the way we interact and love others.
I’ll never forget the day that a young girl who could not see with her eyes taught me how to see with my heart.