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Lifelines: F is for Fluency

C. Saphir

Instead of waiting for me to get out my name, people jumped into the uncomfortable, drawn-out pause with what they probably thought was a funny rejoinder.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


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on the first day of my first summer in overnight camp, when I was nine years old, my counselor came over to me and asked me my name. “Um,” I said. “Um… um… um…” “What’s the matter?” he asked, slapping me on the back. “You forgot your name?”

How many times in my young life had I heard that question? My last name started with an F, and F was one of the hardest syllables for me, a stutterer, to pronounce. Instead of waiting for me to get out my name, people jumped into the uncomfortable, drawn-out pause with what they probably thought was a funny rejoinder.

But for me, it wasn’t funny at all. Because the less chance people gave me to actually say what I wanted to say, the less hope I had that I could ever open my mouth without stuttering.

I wasn’t a severe stutterer — my stutter was diagnosed at about 40 percent, meaning that I’d stutter on 40 out of 100 words. But the fact that it wasn’t a terrible stutter worked to my disadvantage at times, because not everyone realized that I stuttered, and they misinterpreted my inability to answer basic questions or speak up when necessary.

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When I was in third grade, my rebbi called on me to read a Rashi. In learning, I was at the head of the class, and I knew the Rashi perfectly. I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. I was stuck.

I sat there, my eyes twitching furiously, for what felt like an eternity. One boy started to titter. Then another kid cracked up. Very soon, the entire class was laughing. They thought it was a joke.

The rebbi didn’t find the joke very amusing. “Mechutzaf!” he shouted at me. “Go straight to the menahel’s office!”

As a punishment for my chutzpah, the menahel sent me home and gave me a 100-word assignment.

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