Good evening everyone,
The last Christmas of this decade is about to come to a close tonight, and I will definitely miss it for sure. Even though I am Jewish, you can't help but appreciate and become awestruck by this time of year-walking past houses with their decorations such as inflatable snow globes, and perusing the local mall which is all lit up with the sounds of the season. Today, very few restaurants are businesses are open, with the exception of the movies, and there are some movies that relate very well to stuttering. The NSA welcomed Jeffrey Blitz, the creator of "Rocket Science," to speak at our New Jersey conference, for example. But this Christmas, I sat down and watched a movie I'd never seen before, and was wowed at how relevant the themes of it are. Christmas and Frank Capra just seem to go together.
Of course, I speak of "It's A Wonderful Life," which is one of the timeless movies of this generation. Released in 1946, it tells the story of George Bailey, a man who has tremendous values. A person who continually sacrifices his goals for the betterment of his town and the world he lives on. He had hoped to be an architect and travel the world, but he decides to wait until his son can take his place at the Bailey Building & Loan Association. As the movie continues, he finds out that on his honeymoon that the association is in danger of collpasing, so he and his wife take the money designated for that occasion and give it to the bank to prevent it from closing.
I am not going to tell you the rest of the movie for obvious reasons. But we all know how he tries to end his life and his guardian angel pleads to help him. It's at this time, that the audience is shown what would have happened had he never been born.
There are many people in the world who don't understand what stuttering is, and may even dispute what it means to struggle with communication. Stuttering can be as debilitating as other conditions-I often felt for the longest time that it is akin to "dying a vocal death," but it's not a one-time thing. It's every day, and it happens at any time. A person who stutters may choose a vocation far beneath them, or may avoid social interaction because that they're afraid.
Although I am confident in my speech, there were pre-NSA times when I did feel very ashamed of my stuttering and guilty. I could just sense it in the other person's eyes. I have very good days and bad speech days. In fact, yesterday I had one of my worst speech days. I walked into the local Subway on Christmas Eve, six blocks or so from my house. I usually go there several times a month, and they know what I get. (Please, try the footlong turkey-double stacked, with onions, lettuce, carrots, pickles, green pepper, and cucumber, chipotle dressing). I digress, though.
I knew what I wanted to say. But I blocked on every single word! I felt that larynx begin to squeeze, leading to my vowel suffocation. I frantically tried every technique I could, but it just made it worse. Eventually, the manager figured out what I wanted to say, but I refused to allow him to accept that. I wished I would have been anywhere else. But I left the store knowing that I am thankful that I can never allow myself to surrender.
Thinking back to the movie, I am sure there are times (in fact, I know there are) when we often ask ourselves what life would be like if we didn't stutter. Or what if we wished we had some other challenge to overcome? I can remember those high school and college days of anguish, wishing I was deaf in addition to stuttering, that way I would never have to hear what was being said about me.
Despite all the challenges we face (and there will be more and more of them), I keep thinking maybe I really do have a "wonderful life." Yes, I know I have a lot of things I would like: More money, a nicer car, and that special woman. And I have some things that I can't change: I can't change the relationship I have with my parents when it comes to my speech. I also have a very powerful love in my life. A love of a special organization where people who stutter come together to celebrate everything it was, it is, what it will be. A love that renews itself every day. And the feeling of counting down to those days in July when I will give my fellow people who stutter a big hug and say "It's great to see you again." And the feeling that I am home, and so in love with the National Stuttering Association.
On my worst days, just remember: Your life is valuable. Make sure the world allows you to share your voice and special gifts.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.