I have a friend who is a speech therapist. But though helping others speak is her job, she is much more than a speech coach. She sees her work as a vocation that involves befriending, encouraging and accompanying each of those she deals with. Many speech impediments are physiological and are helped by exercises, behaviour modification and various breathing techniques. Some are caused by trauma, psycholohgical barriers and other emotional difficulties that affect the confidence, spontaneity and social freedom to speak. But whatever the causes, the distress and personal cost of being unable to speak clearly or fluently can be all but unbearable.
Last year we were sharing in a meeting and she told the story of a child who was unable at pre-school stage to identify and make the sound of the five vowels, let alone construct and articulate words, phrases, sentences. Five years on the girl now well into primary education was able to say in class, equilateral triangle! There is something profoundly humane about a life's work helping others speak. Speech is a primary form of social exchange, of relational building, of personal expression. And those who enable and empower others to speak contribute a precious gift to people like that child, and equally provide one of the most valuable services within our education and health services.
Last night we went to see The King's Speech. Plenty of reviews are available about how good this film is. Most of them are not overstating the achievement of Colin Firth in his portrayal of a proud, self-conscious but decent man who is the son of a King, and who stammers.The speech therapist, Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush is equally convincing. relying on the experience of helping traumatised soldiers returning home and rendered incapable of speech by what they experienced. There are powerful protective walls in our consciousness that hold back what cannot be spoken. Rush brilliantly portrays a compassionate and good man.
I will go and see it again while it's still in the cinema. As a study in friendship across the chasm of social differences; as an essay on the human voice as an instrument of personal identity and social relations; as a demonstration, through close-up camera, of the human face as the window to that place from which our deepest emotions sustain or wound us; and as a portrayal of that longing to be free of what constrains and limits us that is common to every one of us honest enough to face our imperfections and struggles - as all of these and more, I think the film is a masterpiece. There were moments when it wasn't clear whether my tears were of laughter or sadness, and the truth is there are scenes that are comi-tragic and which encapsulate how hilarity and burden intermingle in the life we all have to live.