Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Learn not to falter even if you stutter
Stuttering noticeably as a child, I hid my shame by shutting up. When I was scheduled to give oral reports in school, I got sick and stayed home.
Because the Christian school I attended offered no special classes for students who stammered, as the British describe it, I was sent to a speech teacher at a nearby public school.
Leaving classmates for therapy was embarrassing. Buddies mimicked my stammer. Humiliated by tongue-twisting speech, I became shier.
Stuttering created a verbal shroud. It affected every aspect of my early years, suffocating banter, conversation and storytelling. I regularly tripped over words.
In “The King’s Speech,” Colin Firth plays the duke of York, who stammered. In 1937, his suave and verbally sophisticated older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the British throne to marry the woman he loved, divorcee Wallis Simpson. The duke was forced to assume the throne, knowing his duties demanded giving public speeches to buck up Brits nervous about Hitler’s grasping power.
This movie empathetically traces how the king coped with his stammer. He never found a total cure of this verbal misery. Still, the king learned to function ably as his nation’s public voice.
I’m a recovering stutterer, too. Like a thick fog that disappears under the blazing sun only to reappear when clouds block its rays, I still wrestle with sputtering. It attacks when I’m weary or when rising excitement forces me to speak lickety-split. Then words are hopelessly repeated or, if the pace is swift, won’t clearly come out.
King George VI learned how patience and persistence paid off. He acquired cadence in speech, which didn’t hide his speech impediment but let him talk slowly despite it.
Usually, we don’t link patience with persistence, do we? Showing patience, we mark time. We hang back. We abide our afflictions. Persistent people often lack patience. They surge ahead. The speedy clock pushes them to beat deadlines and halve the time it ordinarily takes to achieve a goal.
Patient people sometimes don’t appear persistent. And persistent achievers often attribute successes to not sitting on their hands. Impatience fuels their persistence.
In the New Testament book of James, a writer describes practical ways to overcome obstacles. He links patience with persistence. We get ahead when we remember the farmer who sows seeds and then waits for the harvest. Months limp slowly by when the ground yields no bud. But then, with patience running thin, seeds persevere and sprout. “The farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain. You also be patient …” (James 5:7-8).
King George VI never fully mastered his stammer. But he reined it in, aided by a speech teacher who patiently coached him with loopy verbal exercises. We lance a boil and healing comes quickly. We pinch a pimple, and is soon disappears. Quick fixes and instant cures work for these maladies. But stuttering lingers.
Speech therapy taught me how to mask it. Instead of rushing words, let a deliberate pace intercede. When confidence sank, my teacher had me sing ditties. For some mysterious reason, the stammer bowed before song. What I couldn’t say without a stutter, I could sing without a stammer.
In “The King’s Speech,” Lionel Logue, the somewhat eccentric coach, encourages the king to sing when his speech is halting. He gives the king permission to foul the pure air with expletives, cussing like a machine gun spits out bullets. It works. Instead of being stymied by stammering, the king eloquently curses. Every blossoming flower, he discovered, has to go through a whole lot of dirt to bloom.
Queen Elizabeth helped her husband, George VI, find confidence and strength to believe the speech defect could be treated. Commoner friend Lionel stuck with him when the king’s tongue got stuck.
I found the best cure to surmount stuttering came when friends and family rallied to my cause. Stuttering doesn’t stop with a strong dose of will power. It’s bridled when friends and family encourage, especially during times when patience lapses and persistence retreats. Nature supplies a metaphor showing the therapy community support gives to those who stutter. A guide corrected a tourist who maintained that deep roots invariably support strong trees. “That’s not true of a cluster of giant sequoia,” the guide responded. “They grow only in groves. Their roots intertwine under the earth’s surface. So, when strong winds blow, they hold each other up.”
King George VI and I felt like saplings that stiff winds bent over. Communal giant sequoia, who reminded us to patiently keep on keeping on, helped us not falter whether we stammered or not.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95. kv