Monday, January 03, 2011
The King's Speech
"Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great - some achieve greatness - and others have greatness thrust upon them." William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V)
To be the King of England (and Emperor of the British Empire) would be, for some, one of the greatest jobs one could ever aspire towards. With its rich history, lavish palace life, and receiving the respect and admiration of people around the world, who wouldn't want it?
In The King's Speech, we meet such a man in "Bertie" (Colin Firth).
Bertie was a family nickname, short for his public persona: His Majesty, the Duke of York, Albert Frederick Arthur George. He was the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon) and a seeming afterthought to his big brother, the handsome heir presumptive Edward "David" (Guy Pearce). Instead, Bertie grew up with a crippling and embarassing stammer, never able to get out a thought without stuttering and stumbling over his words.
After trying to find a cure, he was resigned to the fact that he would never recover - and still remain locked in the shadow of his brother, who had assumed the throne as Edward VIII.
But then he met Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist, who took a different tactic - he decided to become the royal prince's only true friend aside from his strong-willed wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). Lionel knew that overcoming his stammer would not happen through any therapy tricks, but through digging through the past and the prince's emotional state - a brave move for a common subject of the British realm.
Through this grueling process, not only was Bertie able to speak better - but he learned how to become a better man... a great man, in fact.
In Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare once wrote one of the most famous lines in English literature: "Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great - some achieve greatness - and some have greatness thrust upon them." (Act II, Scene V). This summarizes the life of the prince: he was born to royalty, he achieved confidence over his speech impediment, and due to the abdication of Edward VIII, he was unexpectedly thrust into power as George VI.
He didn't crave the greatness of power - and with the onslaught of World War II at hand, he wished he could avoid it at all costs. We can learn much from his humility.
Humility is a Christ-like virtue - a trait that means we do not seek our own reward. We perform our duties without much complaint. We do for others first before ourselves. And ironically, or perhaps Providentially, it is in this humility where we become truly great.
Greatness has its origins in trusted friendships (like that between Lionel and Bertie). Greatness means overcoming our fears and frustrations (such as a crippling stutter). Greatness involves still loving others despite their persecution (as Bertie did for his brother, even when he discovered that his stammer was due partially to his insults and teasing). And greatness is perfected when we use it for the sake of comforting, serving, and giving of ourselves for others (just as George VI used his imperfect speech to give comfort to the British people on radio during the Second World War).
The King's Speech shows us that God can make great things happen through us, even if it means using our most embarrassing traits in the process. Through friends like Lionel, God is able to lift us up out of our misery - and use those harrowing moments as the saving grace for others... if only we are humble enough to get out of the way.
As a child, I myself was bullied and picked upon for my own idiosyncrasies. It hurt. It pained me. It nearly crippled me. But God has called me to use those embarrassing moments so that I might help others. Now I am able to look out for those who are alone, isolated, and afraid - and welcome the newcomer, the stranger, and the outsider whenever I can. This is the greatness that I continually strive towards - and hopefully not for my glory, but for the sake of others.
How might God be calling you to greatness? What in your past might God use to bring about greatness in your life? And how can you humbly put your gifts at the service of another?
We may not be kings or royal princes. We may not be the world's leading expert on speech therapy. But we are each called to a greatness beyond human understanding. The next move, it seems, is ours. In that journey, God be with us all.