Shorelines

By Christian Olivier, Class of ’20

Stuttering. According to the National Stuttering Association (Yes, it exists.)[1], it is “what happens when you have too much tension in the muscles that help you produce speech or when those parts of your body involved in talking don’t work together.” As is the brain of a stutterer, there is no anatomical harmony. One camp is moving much faster than the others. For me, that was my brain. My speech pathologist said my thoughts were going faster than my mouth could keep up. It was a twisted form of the Tortoise and the Hare, except slow and steady was not winning the race.

Imagine you’re in a dream, and you have a bad guy chasing you. You run and run and run, but he’s on you. You then turn to defend yourself. You are ducking and weaving his attempts to hurt you and even get some punches in yourself, then… what the heck? As if out of nowhere, you can’t throw a punch. Your arms feel like they have cinderblocks tied to them. You are left vulnerable as your right hook bounces uselessly off your captor’s face.

Well, that was what speaking felt like for me. Words of any kind became a constant struggle. I would plot and scheme to get out of talking in front of the class or on the telephone. My head no more than a tornado of my thoughts, I knew that I would begin presenting something that had a short and bitter end. It would go well at the beginning. Then out of nowhere there would be a pause. My next words did not make it to my tongue. They were trapped in my throat, trying to escape with sounds of “a-a-a” and “h-h-h,” sometimes even resorting to a self-loathing snicker.

So I would stand there, wiping my hand across my now sweat-glistened forehead, seeing the eyes of my classmates and friends longing for something—anything—from this statue standing in front of them. Then seeing their eyes turn from longing to apathy. Knowing that I had the world to say to them, but no voice to say it with. I fell on my own sword and lost my stage. Lost my words. I knew that the words in my head had been lost forever. Sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Never coming close to any shoreline.

Then I decided to do Speech Pathology in seventh grade. When that didn’t work, I began to practice on my own. I’d talk to myself until I knew how to avoid that stupid stutter. I took more breaths and tried to go into conversations unprepared, so my brain couldn’t move too fast. I would never pre-write any of my speeches for Beta Club. The most useful tactic, though, was just looking up for a split second and letting there be a long pause. I would attempt to say what was on my mind in a different way, using different words and different tones. Or sometimes I would just not say anything at all. My mom said sometimes what was on my mind didn’t need to be said. The world wasn’t ready for it.

Then what happens to the world when I can speak unabashedly? When I don’t have to compromise my thoughts?

Well, you’re reading this, aren’t you?

I found nirvana in the world of writing. A world more complex than pitches and tones. I can’t tap the microphone or snap my fingers to keep you on the edge of your seat. My words have to do that. Each word has to make you look forward to the next one while savoring the last one. This is how I win the battle. Using the right adjectives, but not too many adverbs. Making my verbs extravagant, but not nerdy. Dissecting every sentence without blurring my message. Because words are all I have. Words are my only weapons. Stringing them together without fear of the heart-wrenching silence is an oasis in my life.

But why are words this precious to me- or to anyone?

Because words, whether spoken or written, carry so much depth. Once said, they can’t be taken back. Speaking is such an important part of our identity. Even if it is harder for some than others. No one should feel as if they are wasting their time on an inattentive audience. I’ll never get back the breath it takes to speak. I’ll never get back the precious few minutes I have to convey what’s on my heart. To give my audience a piece of who I am. That is why I can leave my words on paper. To leave it for centuries to come. No one even has to read it. My writing can be a message in a bottle, floating around in the ocean of life until the end of time. Regardless of whether there is or isn’t a shore.

I write because I worship a God who gave us Himself. Because “In the beginning was the Word,” and these words were so powerful that we savor every letter. He sent scripture that was “God-breathed” and perfectly structured to keep us on our heels. Scripture that says He sent His own son to save mankind from their unforgivable mutiny. He gave us a love that we did not deserve and challenged us to spread that love. To spread the love that is unceasing and void of inattention and lingering pauses. To spread the love that moves mountains and controls the wind and the rain. To let the world know that our life is beautiful and that there is hope for anyone with air in their lungs. And how am I supposed to do that without words? How can I spread that love when I am upstaged by the whims of the world around us? By my own mind?

Well I take back what’s His by turning to something void of pauses. Something you can’t ignore. Because I know you don’t have to be reading this. You could easily be reading something else. Listening to something else. Watching something else. But, with no one other than God to thank, you aren’t. You’re right here, staring at me through the words on my page. Listening to my voice with your ears still covered. Letting me speak with my mouth closed and my forehead dry. Being my lighthouse as my words find their way onto your shore. Soaking in what I wish you could hear me say.

You are loved more than any words can describe.

 

[1] http://www.westutter.org/who-we-help/families/elementary-school-age-kids/what-is-stuttering/

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3 thoughts on “Shorelines

  1. Nanette Kibbe says:

    Christian, it was an awesome experience for me, a speech pathologist for the past 39 years, to read your words. I hope to read more…

  2. Harold Ekeh says:

    This was a beautifully-written, inspiring, and important piece. Thank you for this Christian! I can’t wait to read more of your pieces.

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