Everyone is fragile

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

By Matt Watson

WARNING: INDULGENT SAPPINESS AHEAD

I watched “The King’s Speech” last night with family. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. Indeed the movie has been received favorably. I think a large part of the reason for its success is that people like disabled heroes.

Think about it. Many good tales involve protagonists who have some handicap. Forrest Gump, The Secret Garden, Radio, Rain Man, Remember the Titans, Pearl Harbor (the scenes with FDR) … I’m sure you can think of a lot more.

As Blake noted, every scene in the film where King George speaks bothers you. The work of the speech therapist, Lionel Logue, reminded me of several moments I’ve had as a tutor/teacher’s assistant. Not that I’ve helped anyone with a speech impediment, but I have helped a few people with learning disabilities. You absolutely must be patient, and that goes for anyone, learning disability or no, to whom I try to teach a second language. When the king finally delivers his first great speech, all that patience required of the audience pays off. The hero overcomes his weakness. Classic.

Most good heroes are handicapped ones. I always found Superman a little boring, at least when there’s no kryptonite around to hurt him. For the past several months, I’ve been slowly reading through The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the main hero in that story is a simple hobbit, a midget practically. He can barely defend himself against the Enemy’s minions and spies. At present in my reading, he’s almost dead because he’s too fragile to fight against monsters. The only reason he ever got this far into Mordor in the first place is because more able and strong men like Aragorn have helped him. His fragility is what makes him so interesting, though.

If you think about it, this sort of mirrors real life. That’s why people love these stories. There is no one on earth who hasn’t experienced the profound fragility that marks the human race. The more I live, the more I realize that disability, illness, cancer, psychological distress, cognitive deficiency, life-changing car wrecks, liver failure, kidney failure, diabetes, etc. are the norm for most people. If you have been lucky enough to avoid those curses, you surely know many people who have not been so fortunate.

As a result, I’ve often let myself feel depressed (not chemically, just emotionally). Movies like “The King’s Speech” help to raise me back out of that sorrow. They remind me that heroes aren’t people who can do everything. They are people who are heroes precisely because they can’t do certain things but figure out how to succeed in life anyway. They remind me not to be so anxious about my many weaknesses, but to find out what it is I can do, what I’m called to do.