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On Higher Ground

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By Bill Horner

The Lord made man’s mouth and teaches him to speak

 

            “Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

            Moses wasn’t the only one who was ever afraid to speak in public.  At one time I was petrified of speaking before a group, large or small, or even being called upon to read aloud.  But I discovered recently that I was in good company.  And not just Moses.

            His Royal Highness Prince Albert of York was also terrified of public oration.  The second son of King George V of the United Kingdom, Albert was a diligent prince.  He served his country in the Great War, married a woman of good stock, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and proved to be a good father to their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.  He performed his expected public duties but stammered so badly it was painful for audiences to listen to him. 

            Admitting his severe speech impediment, Albert engaged the help of an Australian therapist, Lionel Logue.  Logue had developed his methods by helping shell-shocked war veterans speak confidently again.  With Logue’s therapy Albert gained confidence in speaking and began to overcome his stammer.  Two unforeseen events then caused his ability to speak to become critically important. 

            First, his older brother King Edward VIII in 1936 abdicated the throne in order to marry the twice-married American socialite Wallis Simpson.  A reluctant  Albert ascended the throne as King George VI.  Three years later war broke out between England and Nazi Germany.  The King’s frequent appearances and speeches would serve to rally the people during the dark days of German bombing raids.  His good friend and therapist Logue would be present to help him with his radio broadcasts.

            The above history is recounted in a captivating film entitled “The King’s Speech.”

            I am not likely ever to be crowned King of England, but I can sympathize with Albert.  My speech problems began in high school.  Prior to that, I never had any difficulty speaking before my peers in school.  How it happened is still a mystery to me, but suddenly I became extremely self-conscious about public speaking.  I would break out in a sweat and become short of breath.  A gag reflex would set in as I tried to speak.  Tears would well up.  Reading aloud was as frightening as giving an oral report at the front of the classroom.  I could somehow push through it, but wondered what my classmates thought.  I interpreted their silence as stunned embarrassment.

            I probably did not sound nearly as scared as I felt.  But I desperately prayed for help.  Deliverance came as suddenly and mysteriously as the problem itself.  Our tenth grade English teacher Mrs. Maynor required each of us to give an oral book report, on a book of our own choosing, toward the end of the school year.  The report had to be three minutes long.  I groaned.  Three minutes would seem like three hours.

            I chose Harper Lee’s fascinating book “To Kill a Mockingbird” and devoured its contents.  The adventures, the cultural issues, the mysteries surrounding a Depression-era Mississippi town all held me spellbound.  Working up a report was not difficult—I really wanted to relate the experience to my classmates.  Despite initial nervousness on report day, I breezed through my three minutes with rising confidence, because I had something to share, something that might be of value to them.  My classmate Kent Upshaw, an athletic fellow who also was not fond of speaking publicly, told me I did well.  That was a boost.

            I never again had such a problem reading or speaking in public.  And it seems the more important the message, the more confident, even passionate, I am in presenting it.  So maybe I do have something in common with Albert, King George VI.

            “So the LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say’” (Exodus 4:10-12).