For a while, I was the best camper in the world to my family. I knew how to make a fire. I remembered to pack bug spray. And putting up a tent only took me an hour and a half or so. Truth be told, I wasn’t a good camper, but my wife and two sons didn’t know that. They also didn’t think that being out in the wilderness with a hard of hearing pack leader was a big deal. But when we went camping with three other families, my lack of camping skills and my hearing loss brought about a self-doubt that was hard to shake.
Sparks flared as a new log was tossed into the fire. I followed the sparks as they rose into the night sky and disappeared amongst the shadows of the trees. There were eight of us sitting around the campfire. Faces were glowing, beers were flowing, and there was lots of banter and tons of laughter.
It was supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy the company of others. But due to my hearing loss, I was stressed out. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep up with the conversation. Voices carried across the fire…and kept on carrying. In the open space, there were no walls for sound to bounce off of. It was as if the fire absorbed the words before they got to me, leaving me with bits and pieces of phrases.
“It was supposed to be a time to relax and enjoy the company of others. But due to my hearing loss, I was stressed out.”
Of course, I acted like I was following everything. I laughed when others laughed, nodded when others nodded, and expressed concern when other expressed concern. But It was hard work simply trying to keep up. Exhausting actually. After awhile, I checked out of the conversation and just stared into the fire. Voices around me became like background noise, a part of the wilderness. In the fire, I noticed a little blue flame dancing at the end of a log. It flickered in a different way from the larger fire. It seemed to be waving at me, trying to get my attention.
As I stared at the flame, I thought about how we were participating in the oldest activity know to mankind—storytelling around the campfire. This was the way humanity evolved and survived through the eons, by sharing knowledge and insight around a circle. But what did it mean for someone like me? Here I was, in our group, everyone actively evolving around me, but I was checked out trying to communicate with a little blue flame. What did that say about me? Was I less intelligent? Was I being left behind in the forward movement of mankind? Then, all of a sudden, my thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of laughter. I looked up to see an entire group of faces staring at me.
“What?” I said, not knowing what else to say.
Those that have experienced the group stare know how terrifying it is. For a hard of hearing person, the group stare is when you find an entire group of people glaring at you, but you’re not sure why because you haven’t been listening to the conversation. At that moment, with the gaze of the entire group upon me, my outward expression was cheerful, but inside I was incredibly embarrassed. The entire conversation came to a halt. No one knew what to do. I scanned the faces waiting for someone to clarify the situation. Clearly, they’d been talking about me and were waiting my response. But I was frozen, simply hoping for the moment to pass.
“He didn’t hear,” Kate said.
The entire group (except me) exhaled a collective sigh of relief. All my friends knew I was hard of hearing, but they often forgot, especially in social situations like this. They were caught up in the group dynamic and didn’t think about whether I was able to hear or not. I was fine with that. The last thing I wanted to be was a burden. And in this instance, they hardly gave me (and my hearing loss) a second thought. Another topic was introduced and they were off and running in a new conversation. There was no explanation or clarification about what was said about me. Everyone just moved on. My buddy Dan, who was to my right, put his hand on my shoulder.
“It’s okay buddy,” he said.
I knew he was just consoling me, but I wanted to punch him at the same time. More than anything, I was mad at the situation, disappointed that I couldn’t take part in the conversation. I’ve always thought of myself as a good storyteller, but I didn’t want to chime in because I might say something stupid. So, I slumped in my chair and reconnected with the little blue flame that was still waving at me. It seemed so excited, so happy, the exact opposite of me. I felt small and insignificant, even though I knew better.
Read more: 9 tips for camping with hearing loss
As I again started at the fire, I reminded myself that I was doing great in life. I had all these great friends around me, was a great husband and dad, and had a nice career as a writer. And while I wasn’t a great camper, I had a lot of points saved up in my Best Western Rewards Program, which, in my opinion, was much better than sleeping in a tent anyway. And they had a free breakfast. No one was going to be making waffles the next morning at the campground, that’s for sure.
As I was thinking these things, starting to get my confidence back, the little blue flame flickered wildly, then flamed out. I sat there, stunned for a moment, even a little sad. Where’d it go? What was it trying to say? I quickly realized what it was telling me all along: Life is short. You might as well wave, dance, and shine as bright as possible while you can.
Sure, I had trouble hearing around the campfire, but my synapses were still firing. In fact, being hard of hearing gave me new perspectives on situations. I realized that with a little work and ingenuity, I could take part in the campfire conversation. I could evolve and help humanity move forward in my own unique way. I just needed to take charge of my situation, and do something, anything to get involved. So, I sat up in my chair, bumped up the volume of my hearing aids, and leaned over to Dan next to me.
“What are we talking about? I asked.
“Big Bang Theory,” he said.
“The theory or the show?” I asked.
“The show,” he said.
And I thought they were evolving past me.
What has group camping been like for you?