Good evening everyone,
The National Stuttering Association offers teammates so many opportunities which are not necessarily restricted to social or professional categories. When I travel to these conferences, I relish the chance to be an absolute beginner when it comes to learning-and it's not just about stuttering, but life in general. I take pride in meeting and relating to all my teammates, regardless of whether they are the young first-timers or seasoned veterans. But sometimes you find yourself a participant in a conversation and you are intrigued about something, and no matter how long after the chat ends, you can't help but want to think about some more.
On the last night of the conference, I am very emotional because the banquet, while it is sheer exuberance, is also bittersweet, marking the end. The next day, we all go back to our jobs and cell phone messages to respond to, as life resumes. But it was at this time that I happened to be talking with one of my teammates who was attending for the second time. He works in law enforcement and as we were chatting, I asked him if he would ever want (or had wanted) to bring his wife to a conference. He's very happily married, and it's not at all uncommon to meet one's future girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband at the NSA conferences. I've met many teammates who have brought their significant other or current partner with them, and while one of them may stutter, the other teammate gets just as much out of the workshops and social gatherings too. After all, something like this which is so empowering, so grand and dazzling that the human spirit that we feel at times may have been extinguished because of our negative experiences is burning brightly than ever...you might want surely to share this with your loved ones. And when I asked him about it, he said (and perhaps to my surprise) that chances are he would not bring his wife, as he cited (and I am paraphrasing) "This is a path that I have to walk alone."
I couldn't help but think about that for a few days afterward. In some ways, I do surely empathize with how he feels. It can be very easy to say "Well try walking a mile in my shoes and see how it is," and I do admit that before I found the NSA that was a sentiment I shared. I had a heart that was filled for hate-not just myself because of the vocal spasms I had to endure and the feeling of being probed under a social microscope, but for others who were able to express themselves clearly. My speech therapist (who ironically does not stutter) has told me time and again that "you do not feel bad because you stutter, you feel bad for the others who have to listen to you." Not anymore. I say what's on my mind, and you will hear it. Even if you choose to tune me out, you're still going to hear it. My heart now is filled with the greatest love in the world for the NSA.
For many teammates, it is conceivable that it can take a great traveling of many steps to attend an NSA conference. As a chapter leader, I consistently encourage all my teammates to attend. But even if I wasn't a chapter leader, I would still do it anyway. Am I selling the NSA? Yes! Do I advertise the NSA? Of course...but that's for a whole other blog entry. I don't get anything out of it but the pride of seeing a teammate who stutters enjoying their time. At the banquet and throughout, I would often venture up to the first-timers and say "Are you having a great time?" And as if on cue, the answers are an enthusiastic yes with a big smile. There's laughter, there's tears...but most of all, there's LIFE....on full display!
I don't attend these conferences looking to meet my future girlfriend/fiancee. If it happens, that's all well and good, and it will definitely be a big bonus. But regardless, I would hope she would want to attend an NSA conference and see the experience. And if she doesn't, that's OK too. Just as long as she knows the NSA will always come first in my life. I used to walk alone....but I've got 600+ teammates who walk with me. If you want a friend, go to MySpace. If you want a teammate, come to the NSA. We will walk together with you.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.