The Lead Up
I was thinking about it, yet I knew I was going to do it. There was no question that I wouldn’t, which in the many years leading up to the moment I hadn’t been so sure of myself.
This was the difference—no hesitation.
I waited patiently as the father of the bride, maid of honor, and the mother of the matron of honor delivered their congratulatory speeches.
I was ready for my turn.
Unfolding my one-page speech, I walked up to the front, grabbed the mic, and looked out over the crowd. Anticipating eyes stared back at me just as my visual field narrowed. My mind sensed that I was in need of protection or to escape until I finished, but I fought as hard as ever to stay present.
“Hi, I’m Chris…the younger, older brother…” Off I went. I struggled mightily through the opening. But, I chose to disclose my stutter, using the business-card size note everyone received on their napkins that stated the bride and groom chose to donate to Friends, the National Stuttering Association for Young People Who Stutter, in lieu of favors. It had been a last-minute decision and my words came out a few at a time, but what happened next was exhilarating.
I received a standing ovation. A family friend even yelled out, “take all the time you need, Chris.”
It wasn’t one of pity but, instead, one of compassion and understanding that I was trying. I fought to enjoy the moment.
I continued on, picking up momentum as I stuttered through my words, both rolling through my blocks and keeping up with my thoughts. This time, I had written out the entire speech with bullet points as a guide for when I inevitably lost my place from a longer stutter. When I did, I got right back on the sounds of what I wanted to say and…
I hit the punchlines!
I hit punchline after punchline like I’d visualized in my head. It was the first time I’ve ever done so in my life without stuttering throwing of my connection with the audience. I couldn’t believe it as I was up there, in part because I was fighting so hard to not give up. I needed to say everything I had planned to say. And I did. I ran the spectrum from heavy emotions, love, humor, and, eventually, pride. I was proud that I could step into a moment that I had feared all of my life.
As I finished my roughly ten-minute speech, I slowed down after conveying a story about how my brother has always been there for me and everyone in the room. I made sure to take it all in, using the pacing to help me stay present. I welcomed my new sister-in-law to the family, and stuttered through the last punchline to the surprise and elation of the whole room. Everyone erupted as I finished the final joke.
It was a moment I’ll never forget.
My brother and I shared the wonderful moment, embracing as I passed off the mic, engulfed in the applause of another standing ovation. It was incredible.
As I took my seat, the room was still buzzing and my brother was pumping his fists in the air, motioning “way to go!” I was shaking and my whole being was trying to come back down from the adrenaline that helped me get through everything I had ever wanted to say. Words cannot really describe what this feels like unless you stutter and experience a moment of this magnitude, but the joy had won and I was back down to earth faster than ever before. I had done what I once thought impossible.
They say self-confidence needs evidence, and this was just that. I left my imagination behind, I went for it, I persevered, and I more than made it through…I enjoyed the hell out of it.
And, you know what, so did everyone else, stuttering and all…
A few moments later, a friend of the bride came up from behind to express her appreciation for my vulnerability, saying that her high school valedictorian had a stutter that he didn’t let stop him. She finished by saying I had a beautiful family and that it was inspiring that I had been willing to be so honest with so many people I’d never met.
These expressions of gratitude and appreciation kept coming all night, with many reliving my punchlines and laughing deeply as they conveyed them back to me. It was surreal, really, to connect with that many people so quickly. I hadn’t expected that at all.
Others were proud of me. This had been something I’d struggled with in the past. But, this time, I allowed myself to feel their genuine words because that’s what they were.
My willingness to stutter connected me to each and every person in the room, and, more importantly, gave me the ability to show and tell my brother how much I loved him on one of the most memorable days of his life.
I’m so lucky to have experienced the totality of this opportunity. The memory, feelings, and self-confidence will last a lifetime.
1 comments on “The Speech: Punchlines and Perseverance”
Amazing speech Chris, we enjoyed every second of it, and we’re glad to be part of each other’s extended family! ❤️