Five days in New York City and my body, my brain and my mind need a break. Summoned down for business, I’m heading back to Albany fresh out of firm handshakes and forced smiles. I grab my bags, exit the Hilton on 6th, and hail a cab a few blocks away from the hotel congestion. This isn’t my first rodeo and I need to get out of here. Almost instantly, a cab stops.
“P-penn station, please”
I slink into the backseat low enough so I can no longer see my driver in his rearview mirror. It’s easier for me to turn off if I can pretend he’s not there. I let out what I’m sure is an audible sigh. He surprises me by responding:
“Do you know that you’re blessed?”
Please, not now, I think. He repeats himself.
“Do you know that you’re blessed?”
“Yes? I mean…What?” “Are you familiar with the story of Moses?”
Three years at St. Anthony’s High School on Long Island, memories of spirited debates in Mr. Kelley’s 7th period Theology class and one itchy Confirmation dress remind me that I am familiar.
Moses is the stuttering prophet. I’ve been discovered.
But I lie and say I’m not. Because I believe when someone has a story they want to tell you – you let them tell it.
His eyes light up as he recounts the Old Testament. In Exodus 4:10, after the Lord tells Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses looks toward the Lord and speaks, “unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”
Though the Lord trusts Moses to deliver His message, Moses does not trust himself. The Lord tells him he may bring his brother Aaron to speak to the Israelites on his behalf.
My brothers would have told me to shove it, I think.
I’ve adjusted myself at this point and the driver smiles through his rearview mirror for the grand finale, delivering it like a math equation.
Moses was blessed by the Lord with a tied tongue. And so were you. You are blessed!
I smile. Say thank you. I’m used to being preached at, but I get the feeling he really means it.
Back in Albany, I have a message from my mother’s best friend. Growing up, Alice was the woman I wanted to become. She was strong, had a voice, and stood up for herself. As a child, she promised me I’d get out from my father’s rule and I promised I’d dedicate my first book to her. But that was then. It’s been years since we’ve spoken.
Delirious, I assume Alice is calling to talk about her daughter’s upcoming wedding. A year apart, we were raised sisters, though I haven’t seen her since my failed engagement five years ago.
I guessed wrong.
Alice tells me about her granddaughter, Emma. At age three, she’s showing signs of stuttering. First she’d stumble over a few words, but now she can barely speak and covers her mouth when she feels stuck. I hear the grief in Alice’s voice. The fear that her granddaughter would be teased, that she wouldn’t date, that she’d never lead a normal life. She had many questions (Do I know anyone who can help her? Is there a program?), but really, she had just one:
How can she fix her?
I did my best to reassure someone who had always reassured me. Emma will be fine. Seventy-five percent of children show signs of stuttering, but grow out of it. Even if this is more severe, the window for language doesn’t close until age 10. Address it now and the odds are in her favor. She’s not ruined.
Inside, I wonder why she’s coming to me. If she viewed her granddaughter as broken, she views me the same. Had she always believed that or is the reality of the situation just hitting her? Did she respect or pity me? Am I her worst case scenario?
This isn’t the time to ask.
Emma will likely outgrow her stuttering. But if not, she will grow up blessed. Blessed with a unique voice, an unrivaled sense of compassion, and chance encounters with people, like my cab driver, who want nothing more than to gently remove her hand from her mouth and remind her of her superpowers. Emma won’t need to rely on a brother, which is fortunate, since brothers are otherwise pretty useless.