Chapter 59: Everyone has a use

I yelled at them to stand on the board, to hold in counterbalance the large guys’ weight while he stepped from it to the other platform. In between us was lava, smoldering lava that could burn you if you touched it. Drop a tool in and you don’t get it back out. Drop a person in, well, nobody dies in these sessions, they just don’t come back. Oh, and also in the lava were sharks, razor tooth sharks that would rip you to shreds almost as fast as the lava. I never stopped to ask our leader to explain the biology of the situation; I was interested in keeping people alive.

I had signed up for an orientation leader position to help incoming freshman adjust to life at my college at the end of my freshman year. Now, the beginning of my sophomore year, we were at a woodland camp near Cleveland doing leadership training exercises in small groups. Get everyone up a large wall, through a small hole, over a pit with a rope, etc. Our current challenge was to navigate between three wooden squares without touching the ground, using only two boards. The ground was lava, and our leader threw in the sharks at the last second, maybe to add a jovial aspect to the perceived life and death situation we were facing. We weren’t feeling jovial.

We had messed up in the transfer of one of our group. We had accidentally let him bend the board too much, his weight picking up the others who were “standing” on the board. I wasn’t because I was leaning out to help him, but our counterbalance people were only making a half hearted attempt. His foot touched the ground but we picked him up swiftly and pulled him back onto the board. Unfortunately, our leader told us that lava had splashed him in the face, and putting a blindfold over his eyes rendered him blind. Several people cursed.

It took us a long time to guide him across the chasm of molten rock, but eventually we did. We moved one by one over the double gap that separated us from freedom. Any witness who was watching the scene would know immediately that I not only liked being in charge, but that I was fairly capable. I gave orders constantly and used the team as extensions of myself while moving through the obstacles.

The blind man was standing on the board counterbalancing someone else when a stray foot made contact with the lava. Our leader/instructor told us that the foot had accidentally kicked some lava into the air, and had burned my mouth, rendering me unable to speak. Being unable to speak, I couldn’t complain, but the silence was broken by a single word uttered by someone in the back.

“Fuck.”

We finished the exercise through a combination of my motioning and my friend Amit’s commanding. I would tap him on the shoulder and motion the move, and he would see to it that it was done. It worked slick, though it was hard not being able to talk and the other dude being able to see.

We were standing in a circle reviewing all that we had learned, and our leader asked me what I had said immediately after the guy was blinded. I didn’t know, but he told me that I had said, “He’s useless.”

“Now Sam, was that true, was he indeed useless? I noticed you used him as a counterbalance the entire time to great effect. Were you yourself useless after losing one of your abilities and rendering yourself more ineffective? Doesn’t every person have strengths that you can play off of, no matter what their weaknesses?”

I did learn things at our leadership training camp, though nothing splendidly new or original. Interesting circumstances can build bonds between people who might not know otherwise connect. They put 10 of us through awkward situations and tricky scenarios, and we were all sort of friends on the outside, at least for a brief time afterwards. The other point that was driven home was that I’m bossy to all get out. This time no one got pissed and claimed I was operating on some vile directive to control the world, they all just trusted me.

Oh yeah, and every team member has a use. I get it, I swear.

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