I remember the day I lost my voice. When I say, “lost my voice” I don’t mean because I had a sore throat or had screamed so much I couldn’t speak. I mean that I remember the day that, whether it was fear, embarrassment, insecurity, feeling self-conscious, or something else, I lost my ability to speak up, to advocate, to express how I felt, to remember who I was. I lost my voice.
Every Saturday, when I was growing up, my father, brother, and I had a weekly routine of going to the same pizza restaurant for lunch and a few video games. We knew the people, the menu, the restaurant layout, and the video games like the back of our hand. My Dad would give my brother and I some quarters to play the video games. One Saturday, after years of this routine, I asked my Dad for a few more quarters, please! He handed me a dollar bill and, as he had many times before, told me to “go ask Linda at the counter for some quarters please.” I knew Linda well. I knew the counter was five feet from our table. I had asked for quarters before. I was eight years old. I have a memory even now of suddenly feeling frozen. I don’t know why this task that I had done before suddenly felt overwhelming. I didn’t want to do it. I asked my Dad to please do it. I practically threw a fit about not wanting to do it. I remember my Dad saying something like, “What’s wrong? You’ve been asking for things at the counter since you were little. What happened?” I didn’t know. I don’t know what happened but what I did know was that I suddenly “lost my voice” and I felt powerless.
At ten or eleven years old I remember being so excited about a costume I had for my dance recital that I couldn’t wait to wear it as a Halloween costume. Halloween morning, I got dressed in my sparkly costume, did my hair, and felt so good. I was excited to wear it to school. I had worn this costume alongside my dance class in the recital and I loved it. I felt strong and cute and happy. And then things changed. I remember being on the playground of my elementary school and hearing three boys making fun of me. They were yelling comments at me about my costume. I felt my face get hot and red. I remember staring at them and feeling so stung, like they slapped me in the face. I remember feeling like I wanted to cry or go invisible. I don’t know why their words had such intense power to change my entire view of what I was wearing but once again, I suddenly “lost my voice” and questioned what I had believed to be true.
In high school I was very lucky to have a great group of friends and felt confident about who I was when with them. I remember one night when I was hanging out with my usual crowd of friends and a bunch of older high school students came to hang out with us too. As the night went on the tone of the group started to change and the conversation didn’t feel as comfortable or familiar. All of a sudden, my friends and I were talking about things that were not like us. I actually felt like I was floating above my body, watching myself like in a movie, and I did not love what I was hearing. I was confident in myself and surrounded by friends who I knew supported each other but we were getting swept up in this older group and the conversation was not so kind or nice. It was strange to feel so stifled and to not speak up for what I knew in my heart was the right thing. I suddenly “lost my voice” and found myself in an uncomfortable situation that wasn’t truly me.
The crazy thing is that while I can recall examples of moments from childhood, high school, and college where I suddenly “lost my voice,” I can think of times when as an adult when I suddenly “lost my voice” too. Why is it that we can do things or believe things or know who we are one minute and then suddenly, almost like a magic spell has stolen your voice, you can’t speak. That is incredibly scary and dangerous. That is losing your power, your sense of self, your ability to speak up for yourself or others, and that, “losing your voice,” has to stop now.
Many of you know that at camp, whether it’s a camper at line up or a staff person during staff orientation, I will ask you to stand up when you are making announcement and say it, “loud, proud, and to the crowd.” It is so important to practice the skill of, literally speaking up. When it’s time to select what activity, you want for your electives that week we ask each camper to look at the list of activities by themselves and chose what they want to do. It is so important to practice the skill of knowing what you enjoy, or want to try, and making that choice for yourself. As you grow up at Echo Lake, just like I did as a camper, we encourage you to figure out if you are more drawn to certain activities, to be responsible for your things, to take on leadership roles, and to learn about who you are most proud to be. It is so important to practice the skill of knowing, and feeling proud of, exactly who you really are, for yourself. Speaking up when you have something to say, making choices you are excited about and proud of, and identifying and getting comfortable with you who you are, these are the antidotes for suddenly “losing your voice.” These are not easy things to do. Even as you get older you may forget that you have these skills sometimes. You have to practice these skills over and over and over again. Practice these skills in the small moments when it’s easy to do, practice these skills in the harder moments when you may have some self-doubt, and absolutely practice these skills in the really hard moments when you’re not sure you are strong enough to do it. But, I promise you, the key to being your happiest, best, most proud, most Fuzzy-worthy self, is always, always, always finding your voice for speaking up, finding your voice for making choices you are proud of, and finding your voice for being comfortable with who you are.
On this Thanksgiving week I am abundantly grateful for so many things. I am thankful for my family and friends, I am thankful for my health and happiness, and I am thankful for our Camp Echo Lake Community. What I am most thankful for, however, is each of you. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be able to know so many incredible campers, staff, and parents, but I know that my life is more full and happy because of all of you. Thank you for all the hugs, laughter, growth, and Warm Inner Glows. On Thanksgiving, and all year round, I hope we each find our voices, believe in the magic of camp, be our best selves, and know just how much there is to be grateful for. Thank you.
Warm and Fuzzy Hugs, Kisses, and Gratitude,