Good evening everyone,
Last week I celebrated my birthday. 32 years ago, I entered this world and it would be pretty safe to say it's been a challenge. Jerry Garcia, the legendary singer of the Grateful Dead, coined the phrase "What a long, strange trip it's been," and that could certainly be applied here. But as I was having my birthday cake, I took some time to make a few quiet reflections.
I think growing up, taking a compliment for me was one of the hardest things to do. When I was given a present as a young man, especially in those turbulent adolescent years, I would feel tremendous guilt opening the gift-wrapped box. I never have had a solid relationship with my parents, and their approach was "We're sorry we never listened to you. Hope this makes up for it." How I wished at that very moment I was someone else's son.
In my late twenties, I decided to take a different approach to birthdays. I enjoy shopping for gifts when it comes to those I really, truly care about. But the more I thought about, I realized that what I wanted money couldn't really buy. At my first real job, I saved every cent I earned and would take great pleasure in frequently checking my bank statements and seeing my account grow. But after a while, I began to realize that it was taking the place of something I didn't have. I didn't have positive influences in my life. I had no one I could share my feelings with about stuttering. And as I celebrated future birthdays, I did so going out by myself. I felt there was plain and simple, no other choice. Sinead O' Connor, who gained notoriety for her performance on "Saturday Night Live," had a title of her album that succinctly described my feelings about presents: "I do not what want I have not got."
Yet birthdays can also teach us some valuable lessons too. I grew up in a middle-class-to-somewhat-affluent community on Long Island, which is heavily Jewish. In seventh grade, one of the popular trends was to collect National Hockey League player jerseys and show them off in the manner that if you had one, it was a badge of honor and a source of pride. I wanted to get a Doug Gilmour Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, a white background with the blue and white trim. When I got it, I was the happiest person for a day or so. But I didn't wear it ever again, and eventually it took up a permanent place of residence on my closet. The most sage piece of advice I ever got was be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
Special occasions are meant to be shared with those who really love and care about you. I wish I had a better relationship with my family. Many times when I go to these NSA conferences, I see this become a very powerful bonding experience for everyone, and I know that I won't ever have that. But the more I think about it, maybe I do. When I blow those candles out, I think of the NSA Nation and everyone I have met. Their contributions to my life can never be erased, because the lessons they have taught me stay in my mind every day.
When I blew those candles out this year, I realized that this year will be different. I thought about the song "Somebody To Love," by Queen, which happens to be one of my favorite songs. It also happens to be a staple on many classic radio stations. The song is a composition of themes such as wondering if love exists, and whether God does as well. Well, I can say emphatically that the answers to those questions is yes: My love is the National Stuttering Association. As far as the other question, I firmly believe there was a driving force that compelled me to spend five days in Long Beach, Calif., that rocked my world in so many ways. And I've never been the same since. I absolutely am so eternally grateful that I did.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.