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.
Irritating to hear about an "unrivaled sense of compassion" from someone who’s known for saying some particularly uncompassionate, cruel things in her time. Quite a lot of poetic license exhibited here.
Vanessa: I’m sorry you’re irritated by the turn of phrase or, I suppose, more correctly, me. Feel free to drop me an email if you want to get something off your chest or just let me have it (lisa[at]outspokenmedia[dot]com). I think stating I’m "known" for saying cruel things may be another example of poetic license.
I think this is a great story and am glad you can share it. It took me a long time to feel comfortable sharing my stuttering stories.As for your friend Alice, I truly don’t think she views you as broken, or her worst caase scenario. I think she is reacting to fear for a child she loves, maybe the same way your parents reacted and felt, but you didn’t know at the tender age of 3. Parents and grandparents naturally only want whats best for their children, and sometimes when our "ideal" is held up to the "actual", it can be so scary that we say and do and think things that are emotionally driven.If Emma continues stuttering longer than 3 months, then you are right. She should get evaluated by a stuttering specialist and get early intervention. That often helps both the child and the family. Early intervention is best before the child develops fear or awareness that she is different, and ceretainly before any shame lands.This reminds me of the scene in one of my favorite movies, "The Color Purple", where Celie never smiled and let her teet show, becasue she believed she was ugly. She too always covered her mouth. Not quite the same thing, but our beauty comes from the inside. This beautiful child needs to be surrounded by positive and loving people who will encourage her to talk, talk and talk some more, freely and with no regard for judgement.Thanks for sharing this – its hard to self-identify. When we are a person who stutters in isolation, we think we can handle it by pretending we are not different or that everything is OK. But once we identify we other stutterers, then we have a mirror of our true selves, and we can’t hide. Suddenly, we are a stutterer, and we hear the Moses stories and the Joe Biden stories and Marilyn Monroe.Maybe we are blessed, maybe not. I like to think we are definitley unique, as we are all. We all bring our unique gifts to the world. If we were all the same, and looked the same and sounded the same, how boring it would be.Unicorns need room to roam!
I would say RESPECT. She knows you have lived with it and are a better person for it. Happy Birthday, btw!
i like that you shared this. sometimes when people reach out to us in these situations it’s hard to clearly see what they are really asking for when our own filters are cluttered. My perspective, based on your story, is that Alice saw what you went through and see’s your light and success and HAPPINESS. this is why she called you, for reassurance that it will all be ok, even if Emma doesn’t grow out of it. She has known you since you were little and saw you struggle. Of course she wants to make sure Emma has every opportunity to be happy and knows you likely have the resources for how to do that – weather that’s through "fixing" or learning to live with it or a little of both.show her the compassion you talk about having received as your gift of stuttering – call her and check on her, send her resources and, ultimately, let her know it will all be ok. (you were asking for perspective and advice, right? haha 🙂 glad you are writing here – it’s nice to read you in a new light. (you know what i mean))