“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).”
He comes to visit speech therapist Lionel Logue as “Mr. Johnson”. He wants help with his stammering. In reality, he is Albert, the Duke of York, third in line to the throne of the United Kingdom.
This is the storyline that opens “The King’s Speech”, this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture. While I am sure the moviemakers embellished the facts, the story is essentially true.
The celebrity and power of his patient doesn’t impress Lionel. In his therapy room, he is the boss. “My castle, my rules”, he tells his royal visitor. He even calls the son of the king, “Bertie”, a nickname only his family is allowed to use.
At first, the Duke of York chafes under the seeming impertinence and hubris of his therapist. In fact, he tells him at the end of the first visit that Lionel’s methods aren’t for him.
However, after listening to a recording of himself, which Lionel gave him upon taking his leave, the Duke relents. The therapist’s methods have allowed Bertie to speak fluently for the first time in his life.
After a while, Lionel’s work with Bertie bears even more fruit, both in the latter’s speech, and in his heart. Bertie begins to open up to Lionel.
“You know, Lionel, you’re the first ordinary Englishman…”, Bertie says.
Lionel interrupts, “Australian”.
Bertie continues,”…I’ve ever really spoken to. Sometimes when I ride through the streets and see, you know, the Common Man staring at me, I’m struck by how little I know of his life, and how little he knows of mine.”
Lionel, with his wry wit, says,”What’re friends for.”
Bertie replies,”I wouldn’t know.”
Bertie’s sardonicism would be funny if it weren’t so true of his life. He is a lonely man. He has no friends -until now.
Lionel has become his closest and only friend. It is clear to Bertie that this man, who is doing everything he can to heal him, is more than just a professional.
Bertie perceives that Lionel really cares for and about him. Lionel is not in this for the money, although he is being paid handsomely.
Part of what makes him effective as a therapist is his sympathy for the emotional condition of his patients. One might call this “sympathy” by another name: love.
He is the kind of friend described in the lyrics from a popular alternate country hit composed by Ryan Williams:
“Where do you go when you’re lonely
Where do you go when you’re blue
Where do you go when you’re lonely
I’ll follow you
When the stars go blue…”
“The King’s Speech” reveals that when Bertie is blue, he visits Lionel. He feels comfortable in the presence of his friend. And Lionel is there when Bertie’s stars go blue.
In one scene, Bertie drops by Lionel’s quarters unannounced. This doesn’t perturb Lionel. He receives his friend, and asks him if he wants to do some work on his speech impediment.
In the meantime, Lionel’s wife is shocked to learn when she meets Bertie that her husband is friends with such a royal personage. Lionel has never revealed their relationship to her.
But, Mrs. L regroups and asks if Bertie and his wife will stay for dinner. Bertie’s wife demurs, claiming a previous engagement (can’t imagine what!), but in doing so adds.”What a pity.” Two couples from different addresses in society might as well be neighbors talking about planning a night of cards.
Lionel’s sincere love for Bertie is biblical in nature and magnificent in its effect. The wise man of Proverbs wrote,”One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend(Prov 22:11).”
Lionel’s ability to “speak with grace” was passed on to the King. The King was forever in his debt.
Todd Rundgren wrote a song in the early 70s that hits on the the lonely void in Bertie’s heart that his friend Lionel filled.
“Hello, it’s me
I’ve thought about us for a long, long time
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine…
Or seeing anything as much as I do you
I take for granted that you’re always there…
It’s important to me
That you know you are free
‘Cause I never want to make you change for me
Think of me
You know that I’d be with you if I could
I’ll come around to see you once in a while
Or if I ever need a reason to smile
And spend the night if you think I should.”
Bertie knows the status that separates them. He doesn’t care. He loves his friend. It’s not a sexual love, but it’s love just the same.
Damn Yankees star Jack Blades wrote a song that could apply to Bertie and his relationship with Lionel:
“Can you take me high enough
Can you fly me over (fly me over) yesterday
Can you take me high enough
It’s never over
Yesterday’s just a memory, I’m running
I was running for the door
The next thing I remember
I was running back for more…”
Having a life changing friendship is a scary thing. It involves vulnerability.
After he came back to see Lionel following the first speech therapy visit, Bertie learned how high Lionel could take him if he opened his life to his friend. As portrayed in “The King’s Speech”, Lionel nursed Bertie through the dark days of World War II, when as King George VI he had to do his own comforting.
He had to give public speeches to assuage the fears of an entire people. Through Bertie, Lionel’s love and use of his talents impacted a whole nation.
I am not a person with the gift of elocution, but I do fancy myself as a person gifted by God with abilities with the written word. I want to use this gift for others, as Lionel used his.
Jack Blades writes lyrics for a living, but he says this of his work:
“I had a letter that was sent to me, it was some … lyrics that I wrote,…’ that this young man said, ‘because of your lyrics, I ended up not killing myself. Because your words said life is what you make it, you can do anything with your life.’ And Tommy (his fellow musician) and I always talked about that, it was kind of like, maybe that was the whole reason that I’m a musician. Maybe that’s the whole reason I was on this earth is to save that one person from making probably the worst mistake they could ever make in their life. Maybe that was the whole reason we even exist was to save that one person. It’s pretty cool, I think. It is pretty stunning when you think about it. It makes you sit back and go, Well, okay, I did something right in my life. You know what I mean? I did something good, that’s a good thing.”
Blades saved one person. So did Lionel. His save-ee just happened to become the King of England.
Blades, in an interview with the website Songfacts discusses the source of his gifting. He tells his interviewer that a colleague couldn’t understand how lyrics just come to writers like him. Blades explained:
“I thought that was interesting, because to me it just happens. It’s not something that’s really cool, or something that’s really a big thing, it’s just something that happens that I do. Like I drive a car – except I come up with rhymes. I don’t look at it as anything special. It’s just how I’ve been all my life, so I don’t see it as something really unique and amazing, because it’s just what I do. Half the time it is like you’re like channeling something. When you sit down and write a song, it’s almost like you’re channeling a higher power, whom I choose, of course, to call God…”
Of course this “higher power” is God. If God speaks to a man, as a man speaks to his friend it is sweet indeed (Song of Solomon 5:16).
And if that same man passes on what he hears from God, then the sweetness is multiplied (Proverbs 27:29). If he does it when times are tough, he is more than a friend, he is a brother (Proverbs 17:17).
I’ve got a couple friends who are like brothers. They have literally saved my life at times, as Lionel did with Bertie.
These men have used their gifts to bless me in my pain. When I was doing a “stutter and go” in my life, they came to my rescue.
It costs to do that. It takes courage. It takes time. It takes a man.
I don’t earn any money writing, but make my bread teaching. Therefore, I am around young people every day.
Sure, I get paid to serve my students, but I am beginning to see that not everything can be defined in professional terms. These young adults are human beings, some of them with spouses and children.
I don’t get paid to love them, not in money anyway. I get to do that for free. So did Lionel Logue.
Lord, help me to be grow to be the kind of man Lionel Logue was, and my own friends and brothers are.
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