Finding a Voice

I was happy to see The King’s Speech win Best Picture.  I loved the movie because of its simple premise that finding one’s voice is supremely important.  And the speech its writer, David Seidler, gave in accepting his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay took my breath away.

But I didn’t know until his acceptance speech – actually until the very last line of his acceptance speech – that Seidler was a stutterer.

He was born in England not long after King George VI assumed the throne and remembers being encouraged as a child by the King’s success in managing his stammer.  In fact, Seidler first had the idea of one day telling the story of King George’s stammer as a teenager in the 1950s.  In the 80s, he began researching the story and asked for permission to tell it, but the Queen Mother asked him to wait until her death because she said it was still too painful for her.

But the story isn’t completely true to history.  For instance, the part of the movie where the King curses as a way of getting the words out was actually taken from Seidler’s own life.  Cursing helped him break through his stutter as a teenager.  ‘If I am stuck with this stutter,’” he remembers thinking, ”’you all are stuck with listening to me. I am a human being . . . and I’m going to talk and you’re going to have to f***ing listen.’”   Within a few weeks of that decision, his stutter was mostly gone.

I think that in some ways we all stutter in that we struggle to be heard.  And at some point, we come to the place where we can no longer tolerate not having a voice.  Isn’t that what happened in Egypt last month and what’s happening in Libya right now?  And for most, the cure is in simply stating, “I deserve to say what I need to say.”

I’m drawn to this story because  I lost my voice for a few years.  I know the exact day I lost it and where it happened.  I was sitting in a 12×12 room in a rehab center in Arizona, and I said out loud, “I will do whatever it takes to save my marriage.”  That, my friends, was a tragic mistake.

Remember the story of Echo in Greek mythology?  Hera, the wife of Zeus and also “the protector of marriage,” was constantly casting hideous spells on the objects of her husband’s affections.  One day while out hunting for victims, she came across a beautiful young wood nymph named Echo.  Certain that Zeus was probably diddling the gorgeous Echo or at least would when he saw her, Hera sentenced her to a life of only being able to repeat what she heard, which is obviously where we get our word “echo.”

What I find so interesting about Echo’s story is the implication that protecting a marriage necessitates someone losing a voice.  For several years, I mistakenly believed that saving my marriage meant that I kept my mouth shut.  But the day my daughter said to me, “How much more are you going to take, Mom?” I got my voice back.

David Seidler had something important to say, and it resonated with millions. The King’s Speech won because it’s an inspirational story about personal transformation and the universal need to be heard.

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