Like many around the world, I am mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II -- expected, but never expected at that moment and time. And during these days leading up to her funeral and final rest, it has caused me to think about my own relationship with the Queen and the British monarchy -- how it evolved and why, in these days and times, it remains so strong.
I am neither British (save for some great grandparents and beyond) nor have I ever encountered the Queen or any of her family "in person," even from afar. Why does that relationship remain strong for me and so many, while others might like nothing better than to see the backs of the royal family and their palaces and press?
As I've muddled it through, I think it comes down to one word or idea. Constancy.
We live in a fast world. If you don't like the television show, you change the channel -- or better yet, stream and go straight to what you do like. Race through Facebook or Instagram and just stop at the photo that snatches your attention. We drive too fast in a race to get someplace inconsequential -- sometimes even to the red light. (I always love it when someone has blown by me and yet we are sitting, side by side, at the stop light.)
We change our styles. Mini-skirts, midi-skirts. Capri pants or long? Polyester (remember that?) to natural fabrics. Wash and wear, permanent press. How often do we just sit and listen to the sounds around us -- or really listen to the person next to us, not thinking about what we'll do next, where we'll go.
We change our political representatives every two, four or six years. And party platforms change too. We are a young country and sometimes I think the U.S. acts as a toddler or perhaps a recalcitrant teenager in how we approach our world, our lives. Me, me, me.
I'm not saying I'm against all change. We coped without microwaves, cell phones and computers -- but it is a lot easier with them! Life without change would be pretty boring and downright impossible. And a lot of those changes are indeed for the better. We cope with it, loving some, other things? Not so much. The Queen coped as well, modernizing the monarchy, while maintaining its longstanding traditions.
As probably all of us know by now, the Queen wasn't born to the role she carried through life. As the daughter of a "second son," she was more likely born to marry someone of aristocratic background and live comfortably on a country estate. (Think Highclere Castle, the site of "Downton Abbey" and ancestral home of the Queen's dear friend, Lord Porchester.) As a child she said that she wanted to be a farmer's wife.
But of course, time -- and the abdication of her Uncle David (King Edward VIII) -- changed all that. She moved into a very public role at a young age, stepping up to the plate with a grand sense of duty and obligation, serving in World War II as a teen and then taking on the throne at the age of 26 upon the early death of her father.
Her constancy extended to the love of her life, Prince Philip, with whom she fell in love as a teenager, much against the will of her parents. Despite Philip's rumored (and documented) dalliances, the Queen remained constant and their marriage endured, emerging in time stronger, perhaps than before.
It endured until last year.
During her reign, the Queen has had no power from any sort of legislative perspective. She cannot make law. Indeed, she is not even to express opinion on law or issues. Despite her familiarity with the contents of her official "red boxes," she was largely a figurehead, more associated with cutting ribbons and meeting dignitaries. In many ways she was a highly paid, overworked goodwill ambassador for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations.
The life sounds glamorous but it couldn't be easy. She couldn't pick up and meet a friend for lunch without it being extremely complicated. It's likely that her longest conversations with most of the people she
ever met, whether in a rope line or a garden party, probably didn't
extend past two minutes. If that.
Think about it -- how many hours one must spend over a lifetime, shaking hands, offering small talk till urged on by her "handler" to the next person. Pulling cords to reveal plaques or cutting ribbons. Over and over and over and over. Could you do it for 70 years? I couldn't.
Or how would you like to meet regularly with your Prime Minister when you have no real power? And when you really don't like some of them? While she is credited with being an astute student of political issues, something she put into practice daily by reading the materials in her "red boxes" and her weekly PM meetings, she couldn't change things, whether she liked them or not. Two days before her death (below) she said farewell to PM Boris Johnson and "invited" new PM Liz Truss to form a government. Bent, stooped over her walking stick, ubiquitous purse in hand, she did her duty. And she was smiling.
Tradition. Constance. It's what you do.
And she did this for her entire life.
Even her wardrobe was consistent. A popular meme showing up this week shows the Queen in a rainbow of colorful outfits. All conservative but fashionable, all bright, all topped off with a colorful hat. "I have to be seen to be believed," she is credited with having said, explaining her wardrobe.
Constant. How very much I value that constant, consistent dedication to duty, to her role. Never complain. Never explain. Laugh. Do your job with with quiet dignity and grace, even when the world around you is anything but. Values I admire. Values I'm quite sure I could never life up to.
I feel in love with England as a child, as my mother (who also loved it but never been there) "introduced" me to the Queen and Princess Margaret.
Years later, on her last trip before cancer set in, my mother and I went to London. It was several years after Miss Ludwig's English Lit class, where I had read biographies as my extra credit of the Queen, Princess Anne and Prince Charles. I was hooked.
After that I began collecting commemoration/event memorabilia and built (and continue to build) a fairly large library of not only British history books but also royal biographies.
I suppose I have been constant and consistent, too.
I don't believe the Queen was perfect. I think she may have fallen down a bit as a mother -- due in part to the nature of her job and perhaps a victim of her upbringing. "The Crown" (which I consider historical fiction, as is emphasized by its creator, Peter Morgan) has a good deal right but it may well overplay for effect. Still, at best, not perfect. I question some of her decisions, perhaps badly advised by an overbearing mother and a slew of advisors.
But then, who of us is perfect. Who hasn't made mistakes in relationships or bad choices about things we might do or say. Get in line. I'll be with you.
I have read that she was a funny woman with a grand sense of humor, astute, smart, able to put people at their ease. A woman who loved her horses and her dogs, found peace and pleasure at Balmoral and Windsor, who could hold her own with leaders of all kinds from around the world. She was a bearer of tradition -- a royal tradition that covered countless monarchs before her and will continue. She modernized it some, perhaps not enough. But she was able to maintain the expectations and traditions of those before her. Sometimes I think it's difficult to even come up with a tradition that will last more than a generation. We move too fast.
I will miss her. There may well be changes in the monarchy in the coming years. And to be honest, I would support them, though not its dissolution. I trust that some things will indeed remain constant. That continuity is part of history. Part of tradition, as antiquated as some of the rituals may seem, they are beautiful. They have been done for far longer than most of us can chase back our family trees.
But during a challenging time for Britain -- recession, concerns about a brutal winter, rising fuel and food costs, Brexit aftermath -- it is good to know that there is some thread of consistency, one that dates back hundreds of years.
Yes, I feel grief in a way both detached and oddly personal. But I am also grateful that this remarkable woman lived during my lifetime -- all my lifetime -- and I was able to count her as one of the "Icons of my life that I will never meet."
She was one of a kind.