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Finding My Small Space on This Small Blue Ball as a Person Who Stutters

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Maybe about a decade ago, when I was reading 50 books a year (when did I ever have that kind of focus and time!?), I stumbled across a newly published work of nonfiction titled “The Age of Wonder.” It was a beautifully evocative tale of scientific discoveries in the late 18th century, couched in advancements and breakthroughs made possible by insatiable curiosity and the sky literally being the limit.

It introduced me to my long-running favorite astronomer, Caroline Herschel (who is absolutely worth falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole for). But it also reintroduced me to the importance of wanting to be left in humbled awe of wonders both earthbound and heavenly.

As a person who stutters (PWS), I’ve had a lifetime of my world being reduced to the panic, frustration and vestigial embarrassment of that one syllable that will not let me say what I want without a fight. In those moments, I am helpless in my own body, a prisoner to my tongue and betrayed by the very language that I, a career writer and lifelong word-nerd, absolutely love. It is subterfuge of the most intimate kind and a daily, unpredictable struggle that ranges from a mild disfluency that sounds like anyone else stumbling over the inherent messiness of spoken communication to sounding like the unevenly remixed version of myself.

It is so easy to feel so small in those moments when my stutter reminds me that, no matter how at peace with it I am, it is a part of me that will rudely steal the spotlight whenever it wants and reliably snatch any delusions of long-term fluency from that small, persistently hopeful part of me. (Yes, I maintain that I can make peace with my stutter and be grateful for the lessons it’s taught me while still allowing myself to recognize that things would, objectively, be a lot easier without it. Honoring the struggle is part of giving it room to exist so it doesn’t have to interfere with the life I want all that much.)

But feeling small isn’t always shrinking away from humiliation: Sometimes, it’s giving yourself up to the universe and inviting infinity to overwhelm you with just a tiny glimpse of its unfathomable unknowns.

There is victory in changing your perspective when society tells you that you’re a pitiable creature. There is agency in advocating for the accommodations or understanding you need to make moving through life just a little bit easier and a little less exhausting. There is power in owning who you are and what you can bring to the world. And there is freedom in letting yourself feel like one small speck on a slightly less small blue orb hurtling through space where invisible forces are the only thing standing between the sunrise tomorrow and planetary chaos.

If I’ve learned anything from finally confronting my stutter at 30 after nearly a lifetime of quiet, shameful avoidance, it’s that knowing the score is an advantage. Sure, a burden of knowledge packs a punch after cautiously venturing outside the safe cocoon of oblivion to honor that hurt you’ve let fester unacknowledged for years. But growth comes from discomfort and letting your squinting eyes adjust to the initially jarring brilliance of illumination. The more you learn, the more you see.

And the more you see, the more there is to be dazzled by.

It’s hard to face the beauty of something that can swallow you whole when everything is pain, whether it’s physical or emotional or a combination of the two. If you’re still in the throes of trauma or in the nascent stages of healing when any whisper of a sharp edge threatens a backslide, being asked to contemplate the exact inverse of the hurt you’re besieged by feels like a personal attack and a slap in the face. How can you be expected to summon the bandwidth to appreciate a universe that has turned its back on you — or, worse, is actively working against you?

You shouldn’t be, of course. Certainly not today and probably not tomorrow. But the day will come when you will forget yourself for a second or two and catch some whiff of life that your soul recognizes and reaches out to, like a vine climbing toward the sun. You may feel guilty for taking a leave from your pain, but you don’t have to: That’s something bigger at work knowing it’s time to gently encourage you to start looking up and out rather than in and down. It may take time. You may decide to rip the Band-Aid off in one big, determined leap. However you get there, it’s all on your timeline and that’s how it’s meant to unfold. The universe is patient and knows you have to be ready for it to dazzle you and remind you of how big it is and how small — but significant! — you are.

You have to want to be awed and seek out those wondrous moments where perspectives are blown wide open in the best way possible. And you have to be ready for it. It’s humbling to let the universe rush in and remind you of the millennia that preceded you and the eternity that will unfurl behind you. It is easy to let insignificance and meaninglessness sneak in, but it’s far more rewarding to consider how the world won’t end if you forge ahead and let go and live on your terms with an open mind and open arms. There is a you-shaped place in the cosmos and a unique mix of stardust stirring inside you, but it’s one thread in the greater tapestry of life as we do (and don’t) know it. You are here to occupy a place that no one else does and sing about what you see from where you are. That’s how we enrich our spaces and leave them better than how we found them.

We’ll all be gone one day, but we all have the improbable fortune of existing on the same pale blue dot right now, so why not learn from each other while we’re here? Leading with awe and wonder is how those stories intertwine with the other threads running alongside ours. Testifying to the beauty of it all is just the beginning: Share that perspective often and authentically enough and, eventually, you become a part of the greater, expansive whole. Lending your energy and awed insights to the world is how we become immortal — and it keeps us graciously humble and reverently awed in the meantime, always ready to find something new to marvel at in a world of infinite possibility and endless wonders.

Getty image by buradaki.

Originally published: April 14, 2021
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