Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Friendship, Winston Churchill Style

This post is dedicated to my very best friend, Jonathan - a friend who has proved honest, true, forgiving, and REAL. I love you, Jonathan!

Apparently people made fun of Winston Churchill's appearance. When I look at images of Winston Churchill, I don't really see very much worth laughing about. He was described as being "round and pink." He would pace about his room and dictate things to his secretary - in the nude. Franklin once came in the room during one such dictation and hastily backed out of the room, apologizing. Winston guffawed. Oh Franklin, he said, "I have nothing to hide from you!" When a guest at the White House, he dashed about in his bathrobe, hawking down his friend, the President. At 2 a.m. he would come barging into FDR's room, always with a great idea. As Franklin said, Winston had some great ideas but he (FDR) also needed his sleep! Yet for all of his awkward ways, Winston was a brilliant man, on fire and full of energy. He was the kind of man you wanted on your side if you were in a war.

Winston was viewed as a genius by many people in his day and history thinks very kindly of him. He knew he was right though and that was frequently a put off.

Seated next to Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, at dinner when he was thirty-three, Churchill said, "We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm." (page 8, Franklin & Winston)

I think you would either have to laugh or smile at Winston to like him. If you took his view of himself too seriously, you probably wouldn't like him. He had too much spunk and self assurance to be liked by those who did not like him. He was confident. People who are self-assured (and take life by the horns and go after what they want) are frequently misunderstood.

Winston was sentimental though and loyal to the core. He would travel around the world to meet up with his friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt was handicapped though and was unable to rise from his wheelchair without extreme effort and/or help. Winston would scope out areas of interest, such as the pyramids in Egypt and find ways to take the president, his friend, closer to the area attractions. While Winston knew of Roosevelt's handicap, he never made a big deal out of it. Instead, he silently found ways to support and affirm his friend while showing him the world. When Winston's back was turned to FDR, his eyes would get misty and he was known to say, "I just love that man."

Churchill was forgiving and FDR gave him plenty of opportunity practice the fine art of overlooking the sins of another. Particularly during the time when Stalin entered the scene and Roosevelt consistently shoved Churchill out of the way in order to "get in good" with Stalin. FDR, who had professed a tender friendship with Churchill on numerous occasions suddenly turned on him to play a political card. In order to have the upper hand in negotiations and tactical decisions, FDR would poke fun at Churchill to Stalin's face. He would needle Churchill and put him down in order to get a laugh out of Stalin. FDR even sent telegrams ahead of face-to-face meetings with Stalin, telling Stalin that he should not take Churchill seriously. FDR played the political game badly. Churchill, goaded, wounded and hurt by such behavior, turned the other cheek for the sake of what he believed to be a true and genuine friendship between himself and Roosevelt.

There were no two faces, no mask that would drop when the audience had retired . . . If Churchill was not in the mood, he found it difficult to put on an act of affability even when circumstances positively demanded it; and in so far as he had good manners (which many would have denied) they came from fundamental kindness of the heart. They were in no way cultivated, and it was unnatural for him to play a sentiment he did not genuinely feel." What, Beaverbrook once asked himself, was Churchill's chief virtue? "Magnanimity," he answered. (page 30, Franklin & Winston)

Always genuine, always true. Perhaps he didn't always act as those around him might have wanted, but he was always real. He could not be otherwise. Even when that meant stomping out of a meal with FDR and Stalin, when perfect political decorum was necessary in order to accomplish the chief end goal - to bring down Hitler. If Winston thought for a moment there was untruth being spoken, or wickedness was in play (and, in the end, it should be noted that Winston's speculations regarding Stalin's untrustworthiness were correct!) he would let you know it. This did not always result in a comfort situation, but you knew where Winston stood and you could be sure he would "never give up, never surrender" the good ground he firmly believed he stood on.

Winston was always eager to see his friend, FDR. The first meeting was particularly exciting for him, because he had been longing to meet the president for some time. Some said he "courted" the president for years, hoping to bring America into the war. (It should be noted that England fought against Germany - alone! - for one year without any help from America.) When FDR finally agreed to meet with the Prime Minister, oh the elation! The two met at sea and the morning they were to meet, the following scene was described of Churchill:

"High on the Admiral's Bridge, not in the steel and plate-glass bridge itself, but on the outside platform, stood Churchill on the eve of his mission. Just out of bed, his sandy hair still ruffled from the pillow, he stood watching the sea that stretched to the New World." (page 107, Franklin & Winston)

He was eager. He flew out of bed. He stood outside the protection of the bridge but exposed himself to the wind and elements, eager to catch a sign of his friend. He was bold and enthusiastic to meet a man he so very much admired and honored as a man, and then a friend. (Earthly friendships aside, I can only think of myself -- if I were that eager to set aside time to know God and Who He Is with more enthusiasm and intensity.)

Upon meeting, the following hymn was played and both men sang along:

(There's a glitch in this Youtube video, but I actually think it makes the point very well.)

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home...

Winston was sentimental about this service, frequently referring back to it during tough times with FDR, when he wanted to assure himself of the later's friendship. Churchill wrote of this service saying, "Every word seemed to stir the heart." After fighting alone for a year, Churchill felt the great benefit and blessing of a having a friend come up alongside him (and his country) to offer help, comfort, support and relief. Churchill did not downplay or disregard the help of a friend. Instead he took it for what it was - one of the greatest blessings of his life. Although he and England both had suffered pain and hardship as a result of Hitler, Winston took heart when his friend drew close. Money and supplies were important, yes, but so were the steadfast life giving words of a true friend and confidant. He was not oblivious to the blessing that was FDR.

Churchill also worried about his friend and his friend's safety. The two had met up in Morocco and the President was to fly out first. Churchill went with the President to his airplane and then said to his host:

"Come, Pendar, let's go home. I don't like to see them take off." From the limousine, Pendar looked back and watched the president's plane climb into the Moroccan morning. "Don't tell me when they take off," Churchill said. "It makes me far too nervous. If anything happened to that man, I couldn't stand it. He is the truest friend; he has the farthest vision; he is the greatest man I've never known." (page 213, Franklin & Winston)

I know that friendship is a two way street and I've no doubt that there were things about Churchill that FDR really respected and admired. He knew Winston had good ideas and had enough gumption to carry them out single handedly. He knew Winston was ferocious when under attack and unwavering in support and belief. But I really think that FDR gained more from his friendship with Churchill than Churchill did from FDR. Franklin had a habit of showing only the parts of his life that he wanted to be seen to any given audience. He was more shrouded in secrets and was more "complex" if you will. Winston wore it all out on his sleeve, and never thought twice about saying that he loved someone when he truly did. I would say that, of the two, Winston was the one with the farthest vision and he was the greatest man. He had a heart of pure gold.

Churchill lived two decades after FDR passed away. Someone interviewed him regarding any disappointments that he (Churchill) might have had following the war, when he was voted out of office. Churchill response was this: "Neither look for nor expect gratitude but rather get whatever comfort you can out of the belief that your effort is constructive in purpose."

He was a friend to the end. He was unwavering in kindness and his desire to be right and to do right. Whether or not he was fully appreciated in his time or by those he let get to know him very well was not his concern. He did what was right - be it political or personal.

For my part, he is the kind of man with the kind of moral standard that I would want to have as a friend. He also exemplifies the kind of friend I would like to be.


Barbara H. said...

I enjoyed reading this. There were things about Churchill I didn't know -- and FDR. I am appalled at FDR's behavior toward Churchill when trying to get "in" with Stalin.

Sky said...

GREAT post! I enjoyed it immensely!

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