#199 The gift of difference

Jaguar

Jaguar, photo by Brian McKay via Flickr Creative Commons

Reading Alan Rabinowitz’s story is like seeing a light glowing at the end of a dark tunnel and knowing you are no longer lost. His path is an inspiration for anyone facing struggles. Since struggles are a part of everyone’s journey through life, that makes his story universal.

Rabinowitz grew up feeling like half a person because of his stutter. His parents never spoke to him about it, which isolated him even more.

Social interactions were painful. Only with his pets could he speak fluently. The animals didn’t judge him, the way everyone else did. They just accepted him. Entering their world, he felt normal. Because of them, he found his passion. Thanks to him, the last of the world’s big cats may survive.

The man who is called the “Indian Jones of Wildlife Protection” has devoted his life to protecting jaguars, snow leopards, lions, and tigers. He has worked tirelessly to establish their habitats as protected areas. For 30 years he worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Then in 2008 he became CEO of Panthera. He is a prolific author, the recipient of numerous awards, and the subject of many documentaries, including two by National Geographic and the BBC.

He credits his remarkable life to the gift of stuttering. In 2004 he was given an award by the remarkable Our Time Theatre Company, whose only requirement for participation is that you stutter. In his acceptance speech, Rabinowitz said,

Something moves from a curse to a gift when your own perception changes, of how you look at it and deal with it. Stuttering makes me a much more caring, emotional, sensitive person on the one hand, yet on the other hand it makes me a much tougher, harder person.

We need both: the sensitivity that leads to compassion and the strength that gives us the determination to follow our dreams. Rabinowitz’s stutter gave him both, but he still had a deep hole in his emotional life until a 1997 trek in the mountainous region between Myanmar and Tibet. In that remote landscape, Dawi, one of the last Taron people, gave him the gift that made him whole.

He tells the story in this video from The Moth storytelling series.

A shorter version of the story is in the video below, with photographs of Dawi.

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