Can You Hear Me Now?
I have worked as a tour guide for almost a year, and the craziest request I’ve ever gotten from a guest was: “Can you please take a photo of me and Bruce by the lake?” Bruce just happened to be a small Pomeranian who quietly growled at me every time I got close to him. Other guides, ones who have been there much longer than me, have stories about bats who have flown through their tours and guests who have bumped their heads on the low-hanging formations we beg everyone to look out for. I’ve heard heart-warming stories of guests who have traveled across the country for the chance to experience our caverns and scratch another adventure off their bucket list, and I have found myself wondering when I would have the chance to experience something like that. Never did I think my most heartfelt moment would come from a third-grade boy visiting the caverns on a field trip.
As I came down the path to meet my fourth school group of the day, my head pounded and my body craved another venti iced white mocha from Starbucks. The elementary school kids screamed at the top of their lungs as they ran circles around the freshly-blossomed trees and climbed on the playground equipment; one boy screeched like a pterodactyl as he banged his fists against the plastic drums, the sounds piercing my eardrums. I sighed heavily and checked my watch. Another four hours until I could go home. Four hours.
I counted heads as I squeezed my way to the front of the pack: 22 students, one teacher, and four parents. A full tour. As I turned to face the group, quietly clearing my sore throat, a woman approached me.
“Are you our tour guide?”
I refrained from rolling my eyes. I wanted to ask her who else would be holding a flashlight, wearing a STAFF shirt, and looking utterly exhausted? Instead, I smiled. “Yup. That’s me!”
“Excellent. This is probably something you don’t get asked often, but would you be willing to wear this?”
She extended her hand and showed me a small blue square with a small black microphone attached to it. “We have a student who is hard of hearing. Would you be willing to wear this microphone so that he can hear you better? He’s been waiting all year to come visit the caverns, and we want him to have the best possible experience.”
As she instructed me on how to secure the box to my belt loop and the microphone to the collar of my sweatshirt, I felt an unexplainable feeling in my stomach. In my chest. This was definitely something new for me, definitely something I’d never been asked before, but it was exciting. I was being given the chance to give this boy an amazing experience at the caverns because I was willing to wear the microphone.
“Thank you so much,” the woman whispered as we finished adjusting the microphone. “We were on another small field trip last week, and the person there refused to wear the microphone because it would get in the way. This means a lot.”
“Not a problem,” I replied with a smile. “I can’t see how this would get in my way; I’m more than happy to wear it for him.”
My feelings of exhaustion melted away and I felt energized and awake. “Welcome to Indian Echo Caverns. My name is Sara, and I’ll be your tour guide today.”
Immediately, a boy in the front of the group raised his hand, and immediately I felt my irritation returning. I hadn’t said anything that warranted a question. I took a deep breath. “What’s up?”
“I can’t hear you.”
The woman who had helped me with the microphone hurried to my side. The boy turned to her, a slight frown etched on his face. “I can’t hear her.”
“Is everything okay?”
She turned to me and apologized. “I must not have the microphone loud enough; he can’t hear you.”
As she fidgeted with the microphone, I thought about the boy’s face. He looked frightened. Terrified. What would happen if we couldn’t get the microphone working so he could hear me? The woman swore under her breath—was I supposed to hear that?—as her fingers pressed buttons on the blue box connected to my belt loop. I waited, anxious, until she sighed and told me to try again.
I took a deep breath and smiled again. “Welcome to Indian Echo Caverns.” I paused and glanced at the little boy. “Can you hear me now?”
His frown stretched into a smile and he nodded his head. I returned his smile and finished telling them the rules. I led the group down the stairs to the Swatara Creek, listening as the students chatted excitedly about their first time being in the caverns.
I gave six tours before that day was done, and I was mentally and physically exhausted. My legs felt like Jell-O, and my brain was buzzing with stories from the caves. But rather than feeling irritated and annoyed, I felt lighthearted. I felt like with just that one group—that one little boy—I had made a difference. I still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when I think of that tour, and I know that I’m going to think about that third-grade boy every time I stand in front of a group and say:
“Welcome to Indian Echo Caverns!”
Sara K. Stevenson is working on her master’s degree in humanities at Penn State Harrisburg.