Tuesday, March 27, 2007
He is an Englishman!
The most sublime scene in Chariots of Fire is the
running-along-the-beach scene. But perhaps the most
thoughtful(whether intentionally or not) was the scene of Harold Abrahams running to the tune of "He is an Englishman...".
This song is a satire of course. But even so it says something. For it really did mean something different to say someone is an Englishman then to say he is "a Turk, or Prussian, or perhaps Italian." England's ruling classes were insufferably snobbish, yet deep within them was a sense of justice that could be touched by someone like Harold. And England held that the meaning of English nationalism was not in whose ancestral hero conquered what obscure province in what forgotten campaign. England thought of itself as guardian of the notion that all men have an inherent worth simply by being men and that being an Englishman was to be a member of a tribe but in a way also the member of a creed.
But Harold was an exception. For he was a Jew. Harold was not a nice person. He was not radiant and joyful like Eric Liddell. He was suspicious, resentful and found it hard to return friendship or love when offered. Yet in one way he proved himself worthy of being an Englishman.
For presumably what made him what he was, was England's schools. English schools turned out boys that were brave and honorable. They also had a near criminal tolerance of the natural cruelty of boys. Harold was different so he was despised. That treatment would either break a boy or leave him scared. And no one on Earth could break Harold Abrahams.
Then he found a way to avenge himself for what England had forgotten about itself. For he learned that he could run. He did not run for joy and the glory of God as Eric did. He ran for revenge. Revenge is not a nice thing. But Harold also ran to make the world notice and acknowledge.
And so he did. And at the Olympics he achieved something more than glory. It may not have satisfied him but it inspired others.
Eric is a less sympathetic character. But he is a more likable one. He runs for the joy of running. He has none to bear a grudge against. Yet he too made his stand. For when called on to run on Sunday he refused. Did he really believe a legalism was that important? Or did he just believe a line must be drawn somewhere?
Eric was called before the greatest lords of England to persuade him to change his mind. Still he refused. Until another place was found to run. And when he ran he too won. "He that honors me I will honor..."
Eric and Harold won more then athletic glory. Eric grew up to be a great missionary. Presumably he is in heaven. We can only hope Harold is. But both of them at that time did something more than demonstrate their prowess. Each in different ways made people stand up and say, "He is an Englishman...!"