Biden's memorable moment of empathy

When Stew and I watch political conventions, award ceremonies and other long-winded televised events, the video recorder is our best friend. We fast forward through the blather and sometimes the commercials, and pause, even replay, moments worth remembering. 

Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was one of those moments. Hard to believe, but her heart-felt eloquence may have actually upstaged her husband’s address the following day. And mind you, Barack is no slouch in the public speaking department:

Then there was 13-year-old Brayden Harrington who stutters and as expected, stumbled a few times as he delivered his two-minute speech, endorsing and thanking Biden, who also has struggled his whole life with this speech impediment, for being “someone who cares.” 

Welcome to the club, buddy. 

Harrington had met Biden at a campaign event in February in New Hampshire, and the vice president reached out and offered words of encouragement to his young fellow stutterer. He spent a few minutes with Brayden and gave him a few tips to help him deal with the problem.

“He told me that we were members of the same club,” Harrington said during his brief speech at the DNC, shutting his eyes as he struggled to get out the “s” sound in “stutter.”  

Despite stumbling over the “s”, Brayden kept going with the rest of his prepared remarks at the convention, delivered long-distance from his bedroom, and thanked Biden for inspiring him to push ahead in life. 

At one point Brayden showed showed the sheets of paper he’d been reading from, pointing out how he’d highlighted words and letters that caused him to stumble—just as Biden had advised. 

As the saying goes, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including Judy Woodruff’s, the PBS anchor for the convention coverage—and Stew’s or mine, as we watched at home. For a video clip of Bryden’s speech, click on this link: 

I didn’t feel a bit of pity for Brayden, who described himself as just “a regular kid.” He was anything but. I admired him for his tremendous courage to get in front of a camera and talk about his problem to a national audience, something surely neither I, nor most people, couldn’t have done at his age.

Tips from the old guy. 

I also felt a tremendous sense of pride too in Joe Biden, who displayed an empathy—a sense of caring— usually found in most human beings but notably lacking in the Current Occupant of the White House, whose political modus operandi can be best described as “divide to conquer,” or “when in doubt, trash the other person.”

That I can recall, I have only met two stutterers, one an acquaintance in San Miguel who deals with the double challenge of a rather pronounced Slavic accent and a stutter, and someone else who worked for me years ago. 

I’ve yet to figure out how to react when a stutterer gets stuck in mid-sentence. My employee, who otherwise was a very bright guy, would not just pause and close his eyes or look to the ground, but almost seemed to gasp for air, while he tried to spit out a particular word or sound. 

Should I casually continue to look at him as if nothing were happening? Fidget with my pen or fingers, waiting for this awkward moment to pass? Worst of all, try to finish a sentence for him?

The only way I can pretend to have experienced what stutterers go through was when I was learning English, and ideas got ahead of my limited vocabulary, or my pronunciation was garbled. I remember being annoyed when people tried to “help” by raising their voices, as if I were deaf, or worse, assumed I was too dumb to comprehend what they were saying. 

An article in January/February issue The Atlantic magazine about Biden’s struggles with stuttering, by John Hendrickson, who also stutters, is a fascinating look about the phenomenon and how each of them dealt with it growing up. 

My favorite anecdote was about of a nun in grammar school who made fun of Biden’s stutter in front of the other kids. Young Joe got up and walked out of the classroom, went home and told his mother. She promptly confronted the nun and said, “You do that again [to my son] and I’ll knock that bonnet off your head!” 

I never met Mrs. Biden but I think I would have liked her.  

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