December 17th, 2013

It’s December and I have been thinking about gifts. In dictionaries, “gift” is defined mainly with reference to the giver. A gift is something given to us voluntarily, without payment. It is a present. It is free. By implication, gifts are things positive, useful, happiness-producing, desired, helpful, valuable, satisfying. But what about from the point of view of the receiver? I would argue that how the gift is viewed determines if indeed it is a gift. Gifts are given to us, but don’t they have to be used to be fully gifts? If I get a gift card but put it in the box on my dresser and forget about it, is it not fully a gift until I use it? If I get a sweater as a present and think it’s the ugliest thing I have ever seen and put it in the back of my closet, it hasn’t completely become a gift. Then on the coldest day of the year when all my other sweaters are out of commission, I take it out and wear it, then it becomes a gift. Gifts seem to be not fully activated until they are used.

I have been reading another book about one individual’s experience of stuttering, a new one called Voice: A Stutterer’s Odyssey by Scott Damian. He and others allude to the value of looking at stuttering as a gift. They describe coming to a place where stuttering can be seen in a different light. I am wondering where we all are in our thinking about stuttering as a gift. Isn’t stuttering generally seen as a negative, a problem, a disability, a communication disorder, something to overcome, a source of anxiety? Some of us do not now and may never see stuttering as a gift. When we think of gifts, we don’t usually think of things that shame us, embarrass us, cause us to cry, seemingly enslave us, cause us to curse, cause us to narrow or change our lives, or lead us to unspokeness and unrevelation. Can stuttering ever be seen as helpful, valuable, and if so, how long does that take?

How could stuttering be helpful? Some of my friends who stutter and some authors speak of stuttering as producing in them more tolerance and compassion, more sensitivity to differences, and an increased ability to be patient. Some have used their stuttering as a reason to develop their writing ability or other forms of communication (art, acting). I am guessing (based on my own experience with the concept of forgiveness, forgiving those who have wronged me) that accepting stuttering as a gift may be a process rather than a one- time event. It may be something we have to do or renew daily. And what is the benefit of seeing stuttering in a different light? Again using forgiveness, when I am able to genuinely forgive, I can move on in my relationship with that person and in my life instead of daily remembering what they did and how horrible and unfair it was. Accepting stuttering as a gift, when or if one is ready to do so, may mean seeing its value in one’s own life, as a tool to help us more gently deal with other people, as a way of becoming more patient with others, as a pointer toward a life’s direction of helping others. As Scott Yaruss and so many people have said, accepting this stuttering as a gift, thereby allowing it to be a gift, doesn’t mean giving up on communication. It doesn’t mean grudgingly taking this unlovely sweater and putting it on and sitting down with our arms crossed and a frown on our face and not moving, just sitting. Accepting the gift as a gift seems to mean seeing it for what it is and what it might do for us, and then moving on with our lives.

I have also been thinking about the gifts you have given me this year. You persons who stutter, you clients, you members of the Portland chapter of the National Stuttering Association, you have gifted me. By allowing me and others to witness your lives, your bravery and your fears, your pain and your perseverance and your struggles, your willingness to be vulnerable, and sometimes your desire to give up, you have given me gifts that have made me a better speech-language pathologist and hopefully, a better human. And to my stuttering-friendly SLP brethren, and to the students in speech language pathology who have attended our support group this year, your gift to me has been your genuine and honest passion and desire to help and understand our friends who stutter and YOUR willingness to be vulnerable. I am also grateful for my students at Portland State University in the Stuttering class. Your genuine interest in PWS and your desire to understand and help at the heights and depths of the iceberg gives me great hope for the future of this neglected and misunderstood part of our scope of practice.

Grace, Peace, and Love from Glenn

© 2013 Glenn Weybright. All rights reserved.

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