Requiem for a Queen — A Humble American's Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II
After the initial shock of Thursday’s news wore off (if it indeed has), it occurs to me that the passing of Queen Elizabeth II holds deep significance for many reasons. These reasons continue to dawn on me as I go about my normal life, and it surprises me how much more deeply I feel her loss than I have others despite never having met her.
I understand those who question my fidelity and concern over the monarch of a foreign nation, particularly because when American colonists broke free from the tyranny of the crown, we as a people utterly rejected the concept of monarchy in our own land. Still, the ties our two nations hold through two world wars and numerous conflicts, not to mention our common language, are undeniable. There was much to admire in Queen Elizabeth, and much to be learned from her life.
Still, I ponder my own lingering sadness at her passing. Why does my heart feel this heavy over the loss of someone so far removed from my experience of life?
Queen Elizabeth has long been my answer for the questions “whom do you admire?” or “who do you consider a role model?” Her qualities were numerous, and her example admirable:
She bore her destiny with dignity.
At birth, she was third in line to the throne and it was not thought that she would ascend. Her uncle was king, and it was unimaginable that he wouldn’t marry and have children to whom the crown would pass. Even after he abdicated, any brother born would have superseded her to the throne. The toll of being a wartime king took her father away at a young age, and she learned of his death (and her subsequent ascension) while abroad. She bore this loss at a young age and took up her duties knowing that there would always be those who didn’t think a woman so young could lead. Elizabeth would likely have enjoyed a few more years to enjoy being a wife and mother before she had to take on the duties of the crown, but she didn’t shy away from the responsibility.
We are all dealt circumstances that we cannot control. What matters most is what we make of these circumstances, and how we rise to accept the challenges we face. Our reaction is our power.
She protected what mattered most to her.
How many monarchies have fallen in the last 150 years? And how many of those instances featured acts of brutality, violence, and murder? Elizabeth came to the throne during the most tumultuous years of history and faced anti-monarchist sentiment every day of her life. She was born into a tradition that she had to protect, lest the safety of her own life and the lives of her family would be at stake. Regardless of how she personally felt, it was her duty to evolve the monarchy to keep the approval of a majority of her subjects and thereby ensure safety and security for everyone she knew (everyone from her own mother, husband and children down to the staff and servants working in every royal residence).
Try to set aside how you feel about monarchy as an institution, and respect how she protected them all by making tough decisions and finding ways to navigate changing times. Admire Elizabeth’s unceasing efforts to protect those she loved, regardless of personal cost.
She modeled cool-headed poise and grace.
When the eyes of every camera and reporter hoping to get a scoop are ceaselessly upon you and every member of your family, there is nothing but endless opportunity for slip-ups. In an age where people are encouraged to share their every whim and gut reaction, no matter how damaging it may be to themselves or others, Elizabeth’s calm elegance reminds us of a more gracious time. Because she was famous from birth (and not by choice), she never needed to seek fame or act outlandish for attention, likes, and follows. Elizabeth modeled a cool demeanor that helped everyone around her feel like things might really turn out for the best even when tragedy struck. She was criticized for being cold and unfeeling at times, but this perspective unfairly assumed that she wasn’t feeling things very deeply while making the hard choice to keep her emotions in check for the greater good. So few people nowadays have this ability, and it requires a dignity that seems so stoic that it’s old-fashioned and inappropriate. We didn’t know much about how she felt about things and this quiet reserve is admirable and a much-welcome departure from the modern world.
When hardships, losses, and seemingly unfair circumstances have happened in my own life, I often ask myself how Queen Elizabeth would handle it and find this to be a wonderful model for how to behave. (I have never regretted my actions when I have managed to follow her example; there are no words or deeds to regret when one keeps them to oneself.)
She devoted her entire life to service.
From time to time many of us have volunteered in various positions, worked jobs for a few years here and there, and offered to help certain causes. Elizabeth was different. She had one cause that she devoted every moment and every decision of her life to, and all because she was born to do it. It was a choice to stay and serve, all while having every bit of her life picked apart and scrutinized. Sure, she never had to worry about material needs, housing, keeping a job, healthcare, etc. However, the tradeoff for this life of relative comfort was literally everything else: choice, freedom, the ability to have a self-directed life, anonymity, safety from the aforementioned people who would do her and her family harm, etc.
In a speech made on her 21st birthday she promised, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” After reigning for longer than any other monarch, Elizabeth more than made good on that promise. She led a life of exemplary service without complaint.
None of us know how long we will live, but we can all learn from her example of constancy and devotion to what matters most.
In this world, but above it as well
Perhaps the reason I feel her loss so sharply, and the reason my American heart is heavy at the loss of a foreign monarch, is that I feel that a very bright light has gone out from the world. An unparalleled standard of modesty, reserve, and serenity in all things has departed us. Elizabeth was a woman whose equanimity was so unparalleled that it simply doesn’t resonate these days. Although she was one of the most well-known people on the planet, she understood the value of being a private person and held her office with a dignity few could have mustered. This tired old world, with its multitudes of so-called “influencers,” celebrities, and desperate attention-seekers has become just a little darker with her passing.
However—when I raise a humble cup of tea at my table, I will toast to Her Majesty, and strive to follow her example by emulating her very best queenly qualities.
God save the Queen.