A Christmas Gift Wish

With my pal, Danny O'Day
I have 6 brothers and 3 sisters and when I was young on Christmas Day I would gather with them at the top of the stairs anxiously waiting for our parents to call out and tell us we could come down and open our gifts.  It was so exciting!  We would race down the steps and anxiously enter the room to see all the gifts that our parents had purchased for us and it was just too cool.  What a day!  One by one my mother and dad would hand us a gift and we would open it and be as happy as a child could be.  Throughout the room there were constant cheerful and happy statements of, “Thank you, Mother!”  “Thank you, Dad!”  “Oh wow, this is just what I wanted!”  At times in the still younger days we would have to catch ourselves and check our thank you’s lest we betray the Santa Claus myth for the youngest of our siblings.  It was Christmas.  The room was filled with feelings of joy, sights of smiles and contentment, and sounds of appreciation and love.
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One year I received the gift of a super cool Danny O’Day ventriloquist “dummy” that I had really wanted.  I was ecstatic and Danny quickly became my new pal.  I read about ventriloquism and thought it was really neat and I wanted to be able to throw my voice without moving my lips.  I read the instruction booklet and learned to substitute a “v” for words that began with a “b” and to use distractions when necessary.  I kept practicing but never did master the skill, never was able to help Danny talk in a coherent manner, and it didn’t take long before my pal Danny and I grew more and more distant.  I guess that happens in relationships, doesn’t it.  Poor Danny, he couldn’t talk without me.  For all I knew he was shouting out from a box in the closet, “Hey, don’t forget me, get me out of here.”  I didn’t hear him at the time.  I wonder if he has ever forgiven me?
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It’s Christmas time and I find myself, all these years later, thinking of my pal Danny and his inability to talk.  I think that maybe I am thinking of Danny O’Day because I am more and more reflective about the gift of speech and the ability to talk in a coherent manner.  It’s a truly amazing gift that most of us take for granted and accept in a casual manner, likely not giving it a second thought.
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On Christmas Day as my siblings and I gathered around the tree the gift of speech was used to share appreciation, gratitude, joy, and love.  I can’t recall a single negative or foul word ever being said at that time.  On March 31, 2009 the morning after surgery to have 75% of my tongue removed I awoke with the most amazing feeling of peace and contentment.  My entire spirit was filled with love and absolutely nothing could harm that spirit.  It was clearly the closest I have ever felt to a real world touching of the soul.  If it is our soul and not our body that goes to heaven then I understand why people want to be in that realm.  It was beautiful and I cannot find the words to describe the feeling.  There was no noise in my mind, no idle chatter, no stress, no sirens or horns honking in the traffic jam of my thoughts, no deception, no evil — just pure joy, or “perfect peace” as I called it.  It was an unbelievable feeling of freedom.
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Since that time the cancer returned again and attacked both my body and that sense of perfect peace. I had my entire tongue removed last December, then the surgical area later became infected and I nearly died.  A year ago I spent Christmas in the hospital wondering if I would even see 2010.  It’s been a tough year but I have been tremendously blessed by the love and support of my Dad, siblings, and friends.   Like Danny O’Day I am no longer able to talk in a coherent manner and I rely on others for help communicating.  Other people help me communicate just as much if not more than I helped my pal Danny.  The people who developed the various speaking devices, my iPad, this computer, all of the software I use and the various websites and servers I use all help me communicate and I appreciate their talent and thank them for their creativity.  Thankfully, my dad, siblings, and friends help me more than I helped poor Danny, and to think he was the one referred to as a dummy.
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I lost Danny many years ago and that’s too bad but it happens with childhood gifts.  Danny O’Day was a wonderful and thoughtful gift, but the greater gift that I lost was the gift of speech.  It was a gift from God that I took for granted.  Talking was just something I did without giving it a second thought but now that I don’t have it I think about it all the time.  And I miss it.  When I awoke on March 31, 2009 with a tracheotomy I feared I would never talk again.  Later I discovered that I could and I swore I would never curse, never use my voice in a negative manner – be that to talk about rumors or to say negative things about anyone at any time.  I remained conscious of that vow and admit that it got tough at times to try to root out negative thoughts that could lead to negative words being spoken.  Even though I cannot talk in a coherent manner I can communicate and I am still cognizant of my vow, and that’s rather what I want to talk about today.  What is it that we want do with this wonderful gift of speech?  Do we want to share our gift to use foul language, to say negative things about others, to be divisive?  Or do we want to use this gift to share expressions of love, joy, peace, prayer, compassion, and thoughtfulness?
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Yesterday I was driving from Mason to visit my dad, a two-hour drive, and while driving I turned on the radio to listen to some music or talk radio to pass the time.  I turned on the popular Cincinnati station, 700 WLW, a 50,000 watt station that reaches millions of listeners.  The host of a program, Scott Sloan, was talking about Christmas giving and he said he had just heard from a homeless single mother and he invited her to talk on the radio to plea for help.  While it certainly seemed like a ruse I listened to her plea and she was followed by a listener who apparently commonly calls in and says negative and controversial things.  Mr. Sloan knew the caller, Richard, and he knew he would say something controversial and this in turn would spur more calls from all the more rabid listeners anxious to share either a foul remark about the first caller or the apparent homeless single mom.  Mr. Sloan pretended to be upset and claimed he would take gifts away from his children so that he could purchase toys for the three children of the homeless woman.  The hatred continually became ramped up and I found myself getting upset at Mr. Sloan for using a homeless single mom for self-aggrandizement and to further cause radio airways heard by millions of people to be a pool of negativity.  Mr. Sloan not only used the poor woman who called in, he abused the gift of speech and poisoned the minds and tongues of potentially millions of people.  Now I suppose that my statement on its own is in fact a negative remark and I find myself conflicted with the possibility of being hypocritical relative to my vow.  I am not saying Mr. Sloan is a bad person, I am saying that in my personal opinion his action was wrong to in a sense use his gift of speech to spread hatred.  I also know that there are downright evil people and horrible events and I see nothing wrong with saying that in a straightforward manner.  Adolf Hitler was an evil human being.  The attack on 911 was a heinous event.  Is it being negative to say such things, of course not.
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However idealistic it may be, my Christmas gift wish this year is actually not for the return of my own ability to talk.  Rather, my Christmas gift wish is that in society we consider using our minds and the gift of speech for the greater good.   I wish our society would use the gift of speech in a positive manner with more considerate words.  I wish that public discourse was in fact less coarse and common conversation was more loving and friendly.
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I have seen the power of the gift of speech being used to help a troubled child, to talk with a lonely person, to console a grieving widow or widower, to express genuine feelings of love, to teach, to counsel, to sing, to share the Word of God, and in other positive ways.   But I have also heard the gift being used to express angst, to spread hatred, to make a racist remark, simply to be mean, and in other negative ways, including on the radio and television.  Unfortunately, there are also times I have not heard the gift being used at times when it is needed.  Times when a child or loved one needs to hear loving words or might be in need of a simple conversation, the power and importance of which should not be underestimated.
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Actually, I can say that most of the time in everyday common conversation the people I hear are positive, friendly, and loving and I also think it’s unrealistic to expect that one never slip into a negative remark now and then.
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I also know that we all have the right to free speech and this includes Mr. Sloan and his cohort Tracy Jones who speaks with an equally if not more foul agenda.  What do we want to do with that right, though?  It’s the same question as what we want to do with our gift of speech.  Does this mean that we all have to agree on the issues of the day, of course not, that would be silly and wrong.  It’s just that there are ways to disagree without being disagreeable and we all could and should work harder at advancing our vocabulary and correspondingly living with a kinder heart by expressing our disagreements in a considerate and respectful manner.  I believe that if we at least try to change a negative thought to a positive thought that over time we will find ourselves making more positive remarks and will in turn become more at peace with ourselves, as well as with those around us.
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There’s an old saying in the tech world, “garbage in, garbage out.”  Thoughts are things and thoughts are the precursor to words.  If we fill our minds with negativity then sooner or later that will infect our heart and poison our tongue and our words.  We have to think about our choices of what we listen to, what we watch on television, and what we read.  If we are constantly infecting our minds with the unfortunate hatred that fills the airways we are bound to be adversely affected and this wonderful gift of speech will sooner or later be abused.  I know in my case I need to rethink what I listen to while driving.  It’s tough.  There’s nothing legally wrong with what Mr. Sloan did on the radio yesterday but is that really what we want to do with the incredible gift of speech?
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Value your gift of speech.  Think about this wonderful gift that you have and use it for the greater good.  I wish that I could go back and erase the negative things that I said and maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I hadn’t lost my gift, if I hadn’t abused it when I had it.  When I had my pal Danny O’Day I tried to throw my voice to him and I am asking you not to throw your voice away.
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That Christmas dawn back in the 1960’s, the morning I met my pal, it wasn’t the gift of Danny O’Day that I remember and now miss most, it was and is the sounds – “Thank you, Mother!”  “Thank you, Dad!”  “Oh wow, this is just what I wanted!”  “I love you, Mother!”  “I love you, Dad!”  The gift of speech is so beautiful and I wish we could could take a moment, think about it, value it, and share it lovingly.   I’ve accepted the fact that like Danny my gift is lost, but I can at least write and ask that we all find that phenomena of perfect peace and share our gift to help and lift others.   This Christmas, please take a moment, just a moment, to thank God for the beautiful and amazing gift of speech.  Then think about what it is that you want to do with your gift.
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It’s hard for me to say now, but, thank you, Lord!  Thank you for the gift of speech!  Thank you for the ability to communicate.  And to my family, thank you, Mother and Dad!  Thank you, Kathy, Joan, and Karen!  Thank you, Ronnie, Jim, Mike, Joe, Dan, and Tom!  Thank you for all that you have done for me, especially during this very difficult time in my life.    God blessed me with each and every one of you and I love you …. more than words can say.  To my friends, thank you for being there for me when I needed you.  To my former students, thank you for your cards, notes, and words of support.
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The Lord gave us the gift of speech and we have to think about how we want to use it.  This Christmas take a moment to thank God for your gift of speech and then ask yourself how you want to use your beautiful gift?
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Merry Christmas.
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Pat
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5 thoughts on “A Christmas Gift Wish

  1. I appreciate all you wrote and know you are someone who will be writing articles, making points
    and helping me learn and be more and more open. So I am going to read your posts all the time.

    This post made me think- think about what I say and who I use my words..it made me remember
    gratitude for my gift of speech and a vow not to abuse it.

    Thanks to you and Happy Holidays

  2. Dear Pat,

    You are a wonderously complex man and I hear the simple and profound grief you have shared. You have been through so much. You have faced down cancer 3 times and I can’t imagine the weariness you must feel at the constant assault on your body, mind and spirit. Then to lose your tongue. The very thing that gives us the ability to articulate, to make our words heard in real time…is truly an unspeakable loss. I love your story of childhood Christmas joy and dear Danny who needed you to speak for him…eventually making his way to the back of the closet. When I think of your past few Christmas memories, losing your tongue, fighting for your life I would like to thank you for taking this Christmas to share yourself with our Head and Neck Group. I hope you felt the love and respect we all experienced listening to your story. Could you feel how much we all wanted you to know that while you may have lost your tongue, YOU DID NOT LOSE YOUR VOICE. We listened to you with all our hearts and while we can’t take away the frustration and isolation you feel, we can tell you that you are not a scary man to us. If children seem afraid it’s just because they need to understand. You are still a teacher and you always will be. The way you communicate teaches all of us of the love and mercy of God.

    “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal ” 1Corinthians-13. Your blog is an expression of God’s love. In your suffering, you care enough to keep teaching all of us of the gift of the spoken word. I am forever grateful for your unselfisness. I pray you will believe in the miracle of the gift of healing you give to others and I pray it will never find itself in the back of the closet.

    May you have a Christmas filled with the love and peace of God and know that He always hears your voice in real time.

    Jayme Budde
    University of Cincinnati
    Head and Neck Support Group

  3. Jayme – Thank you very much for your kind remarks. Yes, Jayme, I did feel the love and respect in the room last night. For someone who likes to blog I actually do not like to talk about myself in public, or even in a small group of friends or colleagues. Last night I felt very comfortable because I knew that everyone there has a similar story and can relate in ways others cannot. I came home and hoped that in future meetings a different person will share his or her story because I would like to know more about each person in the group. You are very kind to write such a thoughtful comment. Thank you for your kindness and Merry Christmas, Jayme.
    Pat

  4. Merry Christmas to you Pat My prayers are for all of us as surviors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. they really hit home

    Jack Taylor

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