Driving to Eugene on a Sunday night to visit gifted photographer/friend Maria. I don't often have time in the car, and I forget to listen to the radio at home. NPR was on the dial, with Krista Tippet (Speaking of Faith in the old days, and now the more inclusively titled On Being) interviewing a biologist and Big Cat conservationist. I was distracted and couldn't focus on the interview the first half of the drive.
I noticed the guest had a slight stutter-- so slight I wasn't sure I heard it until the third or forth time. In the second half, I came awake, as biologist and explorer Alan Rabinowitz revealed that his love of cats started because watching them at a zoo was a rare respite for him as a child. Rabinowitz was afflicted with severe stuttering as he developed language-- so severe that he was effectively electively mute until adulthood. Friendless and locked in with a voice powerful but seemingly unable to be tolerated, he related to the tigers, lions and jaguars that paced their cages, made impotent by their environment. His parents did their best to help, and sent him to psychiatrists and speech therapists. At the time, stuttering was seen as a behavioral rather than neurological issue. The therapeutic emphasis was on getting him to knock it off, which only made things worse. When he was 18, his parents found a speech clinic which taught him to be a "fluent stutterer"-- to accept what was true about him and work with it. It worked. He is now an international speaker, and his voice-- for the animals, for conservation, for himself-- is a powerful and effective one. As a child, he watched these powerful cats pace in their cages and said to them, "I'm going to get us out of here." He has devoted his life to finding and preserving places for this animals to express their powerful voice and their genetic heritage.
Krista Tippet is a wise and compassionate interviewer, and has talked with many people over the years whose wisdom, like Dr. Rabinowitz, was similarly hard won. "When you talk about what helped you... becoming a fluent stutterer rather than denying it...It reminds me about what I hear about hearing and wholeness... that in fact being a whole person is about taking in whatever our wounds are and our fears are, and integrating them into our identity... it's the work of a lifetime."
The story gets even more profound. In 2002, Dr. Rabinowitz was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocyttic Leukemia), which has no cure. As Krista pointed out, mortality is not at all special, but most of us manage to avoid looking at it while we are still living our full lives. Yet even though hearing that living in the field, with its exposure to dengue fever, thyphoid, malaria and other illnesses, was likely to shorten his life, he decided that his mission was so important to his identity he would soldier on. "Have the courage to live", said Robert Cody. "Anyone can die."
This was a powerful and moving interview, and there is much to be learned from listening to it. I encourage you to take the time. Find it here: http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/voice-for-the-animals/
Many of us have voices that long to be heard. Find your voice, and use it. Your wounds are part of your history. Own them. They are part of your power.
Related links on stuttering: http://www.stutteringhelp.org/
If you've not seen it, The King's Speech is a powerful film in which the protagonist stutterer finds and uses his voice.
I'll close with a poem by a voice for the inarticulate: Mary Oliver.
I was profoundly moved by this interview, and I hope you will take time to listen to it.
Welcome to the middle path
- Jana Svoboda, LCSW
- Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.