Confession: My brother and I shared a bedroom smaller than a modern walk-in closet – but just large enough to squeeze in a bunkbed.
My brother and I would sing ourselves to sleep.
My brother stuttered.
My brother had the misfortune of having me as his brother…
What did I Learn?
I am not sure to what degree I compounded his stuttering, but I am sure I didn’t help. Not every childhood taunt can be written off by the excuse of youth. At this stage of my life, I have learned things I didn’t seem to have the framework to understand when we were children.
Eventually (after many years) I learned to not finish his sentences.
I learned to listen (a little) better.
I learned he is a person with something to say.
I learned to be a better brother.
See how the water moves
My contemplation about my brother was sparked by an interview on “CBC Radio’s Q with a Vancouver Island Poet who stutters. Jordan Scott found that reciting his poetry with his stutter actually added to the projection of the poem.
Vivian Rashotte writes:
“As a kid, when Jordan Scott was experiencing a “bad speech day” his father would take him out to either the Fraser River or the Coquitlam River near their home in British Columbia.
“These were wonderful moments for me because we’d just sit in silence,” Scott told host Tom Power in an interview on CBC Radio’s Q. “I didn’t have to talk. And one day he pointed to the river and he said:
You see how that water moves? That’s how you speak.
“In his new picture book, I Talk Like a River, Scott explores the poetics of stuttering through the story of a boy who feels isolated and unable to fit in because of the way speaks.
Throughout the book, the boy names the sounds of words that get stuck in the back of his mouth, making it difficult for him to communicate.”
What I Wish I Had Known
As I’ve aged, I have wished less and less for things I did not have, and more and more for the character qualities I needed.
I wish I had the maturity sooner to help my brother (and me) accept his stutter as something that was natural, as Jordan noted, “like the river, rather than something to overcome”.
I wish I could’ve provided sooner the solidarity my brother needed – the ability to accept him and help him accept himself.
I wish we had the kind of relationships that could’ve supported us like Jordan’s dad. He reminds me of Jason Hague who wrote the poem “Reflection of Aching Joy” for his son Jack who has autism. He begins by asking:
Are you autistic? Or do you have autism?
Or are you merely affected by this condition…
I suppose every parent struggles with a question like this when they have to care for a child with conditions that will inevitably hinder their progress.
The Question of Identity
But are we our “condition”?
If you’ve read many of my posts, you will know that I couldn’t disagree more. I completely disagree with the tendency to reductionism by label or condition. And when it comes to persons with notable disabilities – it is even more reductionistic.
Throughout most of my brother’s life, he was labeled and relegated by his condition – sequestered into the “special” class at school, and later to tedious jobs with mind-numbing repetition. And though I confess that I was an irritant, this is nothing compared to the school yard or walking down the street.
Relationships that are Healing
Nevertheless there can be relationships that are profoundly healing: like being a good brother, or like Jordan’s dad who could find and speak into the beauty of his son, or like Jason Hague who ends his poem:
… you are not a disorder, my son,
Not a blue puzzle piece
On a clinical spectrum.
But neither are you normal,
You’re a piece of God’s own daydreams
A reflection of aching joy.
No, you’re not normal.
You are… beloved.
I wish I knew this myself at a younger age; I wish my brother knew this too.
I am, however, profoundly grateful I have come to know my belovedness to the One who made us for Himself.
For more see “The Gift of Belovedness“.