As I was picking up my car today from the mechanic, I had to stop for a few moment and reflect on an interesting topic for this blog. The holidays are upon us, and although we associate them with the usual symbols: the lights, giving of gifts, the mad rush of shoppers at the local mall, sometimes we also neglect to include the need to not say things that eat away at people's very existence of being. I am a strong advocate of being outspoken, especially about things that I am passionate about, such as the National Stuttering Association. But no matter how old you are, sometimes the simple lesson of not saying anything nice if you don't have anything good to say seems to elude the most intelligent of people.
Over breakfast, I was reading the sports section of Newsday, which is our daily publication here and the main source of news for all things Long Island. There was an article about the New York Islanders, which on most days I would have moved past, yet this was different. The Islanders are Long Island's NHL team, and are in serious danger of moving. Despite being a dynasty at one time and being the only U.S.-based team to win four straight championships, the team has continually struggled-failed rebuilds, poor management, an owner who wanted a new arena and complex and was denied it by the local governing board, and on a good night, may be lucky to draw 10,000 fans. Still, they have a loyal following, but these times are mightily testing the fans' patience.
As the story goes, three of the Islanders players (James Wisniewski, Doug Weight, and Andrew MacDonald) were at a local hospital giving out gifts to children who were struggling with chronic illnesses, and trying to offer a temporary if not delightful respite from what they were having to face on a daily basis. One of the nurses, who was not identified in the story, happened to be a season ticket holder and decided to let the players know she felt, as the team had at one time lost 17 out of 18 games. According to Wisniewski, "She was saying nobody wants to go to your games, you've been giving tickets away for free. It was kind of like with that first comment, 'Whoa.' And then the second and third, it's to the point where we had to walk away. I'm a newlywed and I don't want to take my work home with me."
We have all good days and bad days with our speech. Part of the challenge of being a person who stutters is not knowing when or where it may happen. I understand I get frustrated. I accept that 100 percent fluency is asking the impossible. But to have someone criticize me for something I can't control does sting, and I have to do what's right and walk away. There are many people out there who love to put down others because it makes them feel better about who they are. When I attended the job fair for people with disabilities in Washington DC last month, sure, I was the only one who stuttered. It is evident to anyone I meet once I open my mouth, they'll know I stutter. But I also met people who were blind, and deaf, and in wheelchairs. That certainly does not give me the right to ask about their issues. I am approachable and am happy to answer questions about stuttering. However, I respect the fact that some people do not want to talk about what they face. And that's fine too.
Just reading that, I could not help but feel disgusted. And I would bet that now this story has run, her co-workers are going to be also embarrassed too. I always think about the famous line from "The Godfather" which goes, "Never embarrass the family." The National Stuttering Association means everything to me, it is my life. I do not want to do something that would embarrass them or myself.
So if you ever feel angry and frustrated about your stuttering and want to lash out, before you do, take a look around and ask yourself: Can I deal with this in a better way? Of course. NSA chapters are thriving all across the USA, I would strongly encourage you to join one. It could be the greatest move you ever make. And you won't have to lecture any hockey players to do it either.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.