by John Ahlbach

Every  stuttering convention I’ve ever attended brings with it, its own magic: unusual things happen, coincidences abound, connections are made, and signs are everywhere that a sea of change is taking place. It is always a human chemistry lesson when despair, confusion and fear are put into the same formula with the feelings of acceptance, safety, and love. The unwanted elements just disappear.

And at every convention there is one story, which defines everyone’s experience there. Last year in Minnesota we had the saga of two lost boys at the lake (significantly, they got “lost” in conversation with each other) who were eventually found after some intense parental bonding. This year’s story, for me at least, occurred at Fenway Park where 30 of us saw the Red Sox and Yankees play.

We were all set the board the bus for the game, when we realized that one set of tickets had not been picked up. The Samp family were nowhere to be found. After chasing around looking or j them, I was finally told by Nancy Cohen i that they intended to meet us at the ballpark. Oh, great, I thought, 40,000 people and we are supposed to run into each other. Sure!

Well, not to take any chances, I waited outside Gate Bat Fenway until halfway through the first inning hoping against hope that the Samps would appear. They didn’t.’ I decided not to risk a scalping charge, just pocketed the tickets, and then found our wonderfully ex- cited group of young and old baseball lovers in right field. They were gracious enough to save me a seat where a pole completely obstructed my view of home plate! Don’t you love those old-time parks! I spent most of my first visit to one with my head on Paul Goldstein’s shoulder. Well, actually, no one did much sitting anyway because you had to stand up every thirty seconds when someone had to leave your row. It was a memorable evening whatever the inconvenience, but I was a little worried about the Samps whom I had not met yet. I hoped it was not an error on our part.

The next morning I sought them out. Ed Samp smiled when I asked him what had happened. It seems his wife Kathy picked up an envelope with their convention lunch tickets in it instead, and she did not realize her mistake until she had driven downtown to meet him, so he and son Eddie could go to the game with us. You can imagine her chagrin.

Well, Ed figured he had nothing to lose, so he took his two little lunch tickets to the customer service office at Fenway Park. He sheepishly explained the error, showing the agent the envelope with FRIENDS emblazoned on it. Now, I am thinking, the chances of his getting into this sold-out Yankee game without official tickets are about as good as my getting to Pluto next week. You probably are, too, right?

The agent told Ed to wait a minute and he would return shortly -no doubt with bad news. Well, when he came back, he said: “Listen, here are two passes that will get you into the stadium. “If you can find your group, great. If you cannot, I think you will find these seats are pretty good” …and he handed him two box seats behind the Yankee dug- out. They eventually spent the game there, where, he said, Derek Jeter, the Yankee star, greeted young Eddie every time he came back from hitting a home run, which seemed like every other inning: the Yankees won 13-3.

When he told me that, I could feel this glow inside of me. What a wonderfully genuine gesture in this crowded, sometimes cold world. You have to wonder what was in the agent’s mind. Would he have been so gracious if the Samps were attending a fly fishing convention? Did he have someone in his family who stuttered? Did he stutter? Or was it just great public relations?

Whatever the case, I could not help thinking how often growing up I felt like everyone else had their “ticket” to the game, and I had something else that I was embarrassed to show. I hid out with the “lunch tickets” life had dealt me, not dreaming to claim my rightful seat in the stadium because I did not dare to reveal I was different.
I needed a hand to reach out and draw me into the world, and at one point in my life, one was held out to me. FRIENDS exists to extend that hand to all the kids out there holding the wrong “tickets.” And it is not a hand extended in sympathy, but out of respect for the challenge they face each day.

How I longed when young, to feel safe and honest about my stuttering, to be welcomed into the stadium with a special pass. And how priceless it is to see these young people extending their hand to each other. No wonder the Ostergaard children chose the Friends convention in Boston over Disney World.

In my mind, each of these kids deserves a box seat.

This article from Reaching Out – September, 1999

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