Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In a whim of a moment

Have you seen the recent movie Match Point directed by Woody Allan? Great movie: subtle and unpredictable yet realistic plot. The story plays in London featuring Upper Middle Class life, an ex-professional tennis player from a poor background climbs up the social ladder during his work as a tennis coach at the posh local tennis club. The theme is a common one: A small event can have a huge impact on your life. Remember the cliche: You miss the woman of your dreams by seconds. You get out of the bus seconds before the explosion. You miss the plane that crashes by seconds. And so on. I might have such a story, related to stuttering but not about my life.

In the neighbourhood next to my neighbourhood, a kid who stuttered lived. We never spoke but I knew he stuttered and I think he also knew that I stuttered interpreting from his facial expressions. During the summer holidays, the town council organised day summer camps, and he was there, too. One day I witnessed how he tried to explain something to a supervisor while we visited a mine museum. I thought to myself: My God, good lord I don't stutter that badly. Only later did I find out that I often stuttered as badly! You could sense that he really suffered also socially from his stuttering, more so than I did. At some point I lost sight of him. He was not at my high school, and then I left for England and the US to study and do a PhD.

Last year, I saw him again. He was also a spectator at the Open Beach Volley Ball tournament of my home town. (Over-)Loaded with years of self-help groups, therapies and involvement in the BSA and research, an evangelical fever came over me telling me: "You need to talk to him. Clear up your past. Ask him whether he also knew that you stuttered. And maybe give advise if he needs help." So I slowly approached him but then my courage disappeared. I felt a mental and stuttering block. He also looked a bit fearsome to me. He had gained quite a bit of weight, and really had a look of sufferance on his face. He looked uneasy with his life. So I told myself "leave him alone, you just shock him" and passed him, but we exchanged looks: he did recognise me, and might even have identified me as the kid from the neighbourhood next to his that stuttered, too.

Three weeks later, I read his death announcement in the local newspaper headed by "Life wasn't always very kind to you."! You can imagine that I was a bit shocked. It was clear to me that he committed suicide, though I don't know for sure, of course. My educated guess is that his severe stuttering had a major impact on his decision. He probably felt helpless, no means of communicating and expressing himself, and no good job perspective, maybe he was unemployed. God knows. I am wondering whether I could have made a difference? By chance, in a whim of a moment, I changed my plan not to talk to him. I don't feel guilty, as I did not make him stutter. But still, maybe I could have given him hope... A small difference might have made a huge impact on his life, or maybe not?


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom.

You don´t know what happened and you will never know what would happen if you would had talked to him. Maybe it would be even worse for him. In Match Point, he climbs to a good position due to a coincidence, but then he becomes a bad person because of more coincidences. Our own stuttering is a pure coincidence itself.
Pablo. Spain.

Einar said...

Yeah, definitely a nice movie, on the influence of luck in life... Hmmm, I think your are assuming too many things, ie you don't know if he committed suicide, or assuming he did, if his stuttering played any role in there... You are right not to feel responsible for what happened to him... It's interesting that you're also assuming his "victim position" based on his stuttering... Interesting that you didn't dare to speak to him in those early days and now...
Respect for your involvement in therapy, self-therapy and research... But maybe you should see this experience as a hint that there might still be some work to do concerning your attitude towards your stuttering and your attitude towards stuttering in general. I don't want to be patronizing here, I've also been in the situation at least once in life where I heard somebody else stutter in public and where I was unable to find a way to start a conversation...
Change of subject: I saw there

Einar said...

oops, I clicked on the Send button too early... :-)
Change of subject: I saw in the "Kieselstein" that the BUKO discussion is available on DVD now. So now you're is available on DVD :-)

Anonymous said...


A touching story indeed..I want to say something.. but dont find words..

I am so scared being a stutter myself that in the future-I see myself in this guy's position!

Einar said...

Hi Ashish,

Troubling what you say there... I cannot accept your point of view... Fact is stuttering is a handicap, it can be cruel and reduce your life quality a lot by making communication almost impossible. But fact also is that with continuous work on it, with a good concept either professional therapy or even self-therapy a lot can be done about it... There have been so many severe stutterers, unable to utter a single straight word in public, who thought their situation was hopeless, and who went into therapy and were a lot more fluent afterwards. I've whitnessed this myself, I met this guy just shortly after he started seing a speech therapist, a guy in his sixties, his stuttering was very severe, 3 months later, he totally fluent. I know as well that on a short time basis progress can be astonishing and that over the longterm the picture is often different, but still even in the longterm with some work a constant improvement is possible. Stuttering differs and each case is different but a lot of progress is possible for each stutterer. So put away your pessimism and start improving your speech (even if a good therapist would be out of reach for you, a lot of valuable info is available in books (eg Malcolm Fraser's Self-therapy for the Stutterer) or on the net. It may sound suffisant to say this but stuttering definitely is no valid reason for suicide (if there is any)

Leif said...

I realize this is a very old thread, still I want to reply.

First I want to agree with some other people who have already stated their opinions: I don't think it's your responsibility our fault at all in relations to that poor man's suicide..

I've been stuttering severely for many years. It was horrible for me. I hated to stutter. I felt everyone rejected me when I stuttered, and I even rejected myself when I stuttered. I was seriously thinking about suicide. Then I experienced I could be more fluent, and everything changed for me. I still stutter sometimes. I still hate myself for it. Nobody understands my stuttering, and that's a lonely feeling... I don't understand my stuttering... Still I'm happy to tell you that I feel much better about it. I don't think of suicide any more. For you who do, please get some help. Every person has got potential that shouldn't be wasted in my opinion.

It's late, I'm tired after working long hours.. Hope my writing is understandable, and best wishes to you all who read this.