Good evening everyone,
I have to start this off by saying that this will go down in history as one of the best nights ever experienced as a person who stutters. There are moments I can count one hand that clearly qualify as unforgettable: The first time I ever did public speaking, the first conference I ever attended, the first motivational seminar I presented, the awards I have been recognized with for my achievements. But there comes a time when something so powerful, so prominent, so full of hope and inspiration, just makes you know that the world is ready to see what great things can come from those who stutter everywhere.
The National Stuttering Association was very lucky to get opening night passes to the premiere of "The King's Speech" on Monday, Nov. 8, at the famed Ziegfeld Theatre, located at West 54th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in New York City. Although I live 45 minutes away from Penn Station via the Long Island Railroad, very rarely will I go into the city-unless I am checking out a karaoke bar or visiting a museum. Most of my life takes place on Long Island, although I do have a goal that I want to explore New York City and all it has to offer. Within an hour, there were about 70 of those passes all gone. I was one of the recipients of those passes, and was very excited to go into the city. Movie premieres are not the glam-fest that you are led to believe they are on the E! Channel. A great deal of work goes into them, every move needing to be carefully synchronized in its rhythm. Thankfully, there was one thing left to do, and that was to show up. I decided to leave my tuxedo at home, though. I wore my "power suit" if you want to call it that (gray pinstripe) and felt like a million dollars.
It's always a thrill for me to catch up with my fellow members of the NSA. The New York City area has a thriving presence, with chapters on Long Island and in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. But of course, we are all running on different schedules and some have families to provide for, so we relish the opportunities to see everyone where we can. I ran into the chairman of the Board of Directors at the premiere, as well as a prominent SLP who runs the "Stuttertalk" podcast dedicated to all things stuttering, from therapy to new pharmaceutical breakthroughs.
"The King's Speech," which was released by The Weinstein Company, focuses on King George VI and the stammering issue he must face. When the film is viewed, it's important to keep in mind the time that the film takes place in. Some of the techniques used really made me raise my eyebrow, but back then speech therapy was not as sophisticated and current like today. One practitioner actually encourages the use of smoking as a relaxing agent (If only I had a dollar for every time I heard "Relax" by a friend or passerby, another one suggested the use of stuffing marbles into one's mouth and trying to speak. The film was introduced by Harvey Weinstein himself, followed by Tom Hooper (the director) and two of the stars, Colin Firth, and Helena Bonham Carter. (Geoffrey Rush could not attend).
What particularly stood out to me as how the film is not just realistic, but goes to such great pains to pay special attention to the emphasis on the relationship between King George VI (Firth) and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush). There are many SLPs who really do not care to explore the relationship more than they are the therapist, and they are getting paid by the patient. It may have taken me several years to find a good speech therapist, but the one I have is not just my therapist. He is a friend, a mentor, and someone who challenges me. He knows I can be anything I want to be, and more. Isn't that what the true measure of a man is-someone who knows that you are a person with a special gift that when fully developed, can lead to big things? You could be an athlete. You could be an attorney. Or, you could even be KING and lead your country through times of turmoil.
I cannot stress how important this movie is. They say there are no guarantees in life other than death and taxes. Well, maybe there's the HBO guarantee of a new movie every Saturday night...yes, I know I am way off base here. I can guarantee that you will hear about the film come Oscar time. At the end, there was a prolonged round of applause, and loud cheers when Firth's and Rush's names were seen at the credits.
As I was riding home on the Long Island Railroad that night, I couldn't help but think about this analogy for my speech. The Hicksville line takes you through Queens County, and you can actually see the Queensboro Bridge as you ride past. Of course, it was all lit up. And I felt like I had crossed the bridge into another world-where stuttering doesn't have to define you. In this age, it seems like there is a "vortex of negativity" where everyone is trying to put each other down. I know there will be many days like that, but just once in a while, you have days (and nights) like this when you realize just maybe, you have a place in this world. It's up to us to determine how big it is.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.