Why I Chose to Continue a High School Presentation When My Stutter Was at Its Worst
I don’t remember exactly when I began stuttering. All I remember was that it began sometime in the third grade. Children aren’t always known to be kind to those who are “different,” and my case was no exception. I remember the bullies who mocked me at every turn, the ones who made me silence myself out of fear. I remember those who were silent as they watched their classmate suffer just as much as I remember those who had the courage to stand up for what was right.
But most of all, I remember the teachers, the adults in the room who I feel failed at their jobs, who sat idly by as bullying occurred right in front of them. In a number of very upsetting instances, they even joined in the mockery. The fear, the pain and the misery is forever seared into my memory as a curse, much like the albatross hanging from the neck of the mariner in the famous poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
There is no way to suppress that pain, but fear can be overcome. It takes untold courage to have the will to constantly fight for something that comes effortlessly for most other people. It’s not a struggle that is unique to me. Everyone has their own challenges to deal with, and this one is mine. But it’s up to each of us to decide whether or not they will consume us. I can’t speak for others, but for me there was a single crystallizing moment during which I decided to not let my challenge consume me.
Friday, April 18, 2008: My freshman year of high school. I was slated to give a presentation on a section of Jewish literature for what was supposed to be a small crowd of maybe two dozen people at most. At the end of this presentation, I had to read a rather large section of scripture written in ancient Aramaic, which I wasn’t good at reading fluently to say the least. But what was supposed to be a small group turned out to be the entire school. Granted, I went to a small school, so it was only about a hundred people, but I didn’t know about this change until literally minutes before. All the mental preparation I did for this presentation went out the window. To make a long story short, I stuttered so much that the headmaster actually came up and offered to take over reading the Aramaic for me.
In that moment, I had a choice. I could take the easy way out, or I could fight and finish what I started. I chose to fight, no matter how painful it was, and I finished that presentation, stuttering and all.
They say that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find the strength to overcome, and that painful Friday was my rock bottom. I had seen the worst my stutter could throw at me that day. The public humiliation of my ordeal was so great that part of my mind begged me to never speak in public again. And if I never spoke in public after that, who could really blame me?
But I refused to allow my stutter to limit me, remembering the hundred pairs of pitying eyes in the audience on that awful day and vowing to never let that happen again. I fought. I fought through every stammer and every block that occurred. And it’s a battle that still goes on today. Every day is a new fight, a new battle to win. I’m not successful every day, but each new day is another chance for fluency, and it’s a challenge I always greet.
For those who are currently engaged in their own battles, don’t give up. Don’t let the ones who wish to see you falter through their words and actions dictate how you live your life. For every person who wants to see you fail, there are many more who are rooting for you. Know that the righteous are out there and don’t forget their presence even on your darkest days.
In a way I feel blessed. Blessed that I was given a challenge that has taught me the meaning of courage. Blessed that I learned not only patience with myself but patience with others. Blessed that I learned to accept the challenges others face as they accept mine. Blessed that this challenge is teaching me how to overcome fear in order to live a full life.
As the great journalist Dorothy Thompson once said, “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.”
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