I wanted to begin this blog entry by speaking about a very interesting experience I had today after work. I work part-time in a restaurant while I look for full-time employment, and since it was slow, I left early to do some shopping. I was in Best Buy near my workplace on line to buy a shaver, and I noticed right in front of me there was a well-dressed woman who was trying very hard to control her child, as he was struggling to behave. A man behind me who was on his PDA tried to get her attention by saying "Do you think you could take care of this? I'm trying to close a deal and I need to concentrate." Of course, this person could have easily stepped out of line, but didn't want to. After about a minute, with the child wailing, he repeated it again and I said to him "The woman is doing the best she can." The guy gave me a very rude look and finally stormed off. After paying for my merchandise, I went out to my car, and I heard someone say "Excuse me" so I turned around, and it was the woman who was on line. She said, "Thank you for standing up for me-my child is autistic and can be very challenging to deal with." I smiled and said, "It's my pleasure. I struggle with a disability too, and I know we take things one day at a time."
In this situation, most people would prefer not to get involved. After all, this is the holiday season-deadlines, concerns over job security, people are frazzled and ready to lose it. I never liked saying I have a disability, because I do not like people to focus on my stutter. But in this case, something in me just clicked.
When I was in summer camp in the sixth grade (I long for the good old days at times) my stutter was often the least of my concerns. As far as I can remember, I have always been a social person and had no fear approaching complete strangers and starting conversations). Basically, I hung out with some very open-minded kids who didn't care if I spoke slowly, and if the words came out choppy, it was OK. One of the kids had an unspoken policy: If anyone dared to mock me, that person would pay a pretty high price. I then found out just high a price it would be. One time, I was participating in a softball game and the catcher on the opposing team yelled out "Are you going to s-s-s-s-w-w-w-w-ing away?" Well, the next inning, one of my teammates decided he was going to purposely swing and miss at the next pitch: Only he aimed his swing at the catcher's-well, for a lack of better term, gonads. He added a little extra mustard on the swing and let's just say that catcher never said anything again.
In my last entry on the blog, I was very open about some of the most trying times in my life. Kids can be cruel, that's a fact of life-and today, it's taken to an extreme. I didn't have to worry about online bullying. But I also saw myself as a freak, the worst kind of outcast. I think back to a scene from the movie "Hellboy" where one of the main characters says "All us freaks have is each other." People don't want to stand up for others, especially those with disabilities.
I often find it interesting how with some people I meet, sometimes I am asked whether stuttering is a disability. I suppose it all depends how you look it. One person might say in the eyes of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is. Someone else may say otherwise. If you think it's a disability, it will be.
I used to think of my stuttering as a "tragic flaw." For those who haven't read Shakespeare, I highly suggest you do. I know to some, he may be some old dead guy, but the themes in his tragedies still resonate today. The "tragic flaw" is one key element that always brings down the main character, usually fatally. In "Hamlet," it was revenge. In "MacBeth," it was greed and ambition. Don't let your stuttering become your tragic flaw for others to exploit. Stand up for yourself, because when you do that, you also stand up for others who have disabilities as well.
My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters.
Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.