Today is the first day in my life in which Queen Elizabeth II is no longer the Queen of the United Kingdom and the nations of the British Commonwealth. I am 68 and she was Queen before I was born. I’ve seen so many world leaders come and go. Churchill, de Gaulle, Khrushchev (and Gorbachev), Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan. And always there was Queen Elizabeth II.
Her Platinum Jubilee earlier this summer reminded me that this day would come. Yet I was among those who said, “God save the Queen” because I didn’t want it to come yet. But her absence from many of the festivities suggested the increasingly fragile nature of her health at age 96. I suspected it would not be much longer before she followed her husband Philip.
I remember a youthful Queen. I collected stamps as a kid, and upon her coronation, every country in the Commonwealth at that time printed stamps with her youthful, crowned profile. I remember a young mother with children around my age or older. In pictures of her over the years, I saw a maturing, and then aging monarch, always self-possessed, but bearing like all of us, the marks of advancing years. That mental montage of images including the frail Queen with youthful incoming Prime Minister Truss on Tuesday remind me of the arc of life we all follow.
What strikes me, as it has so many, is how she persisted in fulfilling her royal duties from her youth, even while Princess during the war years until this very week. She once said, “Work is the rent you pay for the room you occupy on earth.” She traveled more than any monarch in history, visiting Canada twenty times alone. And this from one who, while Edward VIII was king, did not expect to reign. In the end, she reigned longer than any British monarch.
I think part of her longevity had to do with her resilience. Think of what the past seventy years have brought: the end of Great Britain as one of the greatest powers, the end of empire, advances in technology, changes in moral standards, the shift from industrial to technology driven economies, and so much more. Media shifted from print to radio to television to the 24/7 news cycle, and the internet. Historians and biographers have and will point out mistakes made by her and her family negotiating the traditions of monarchy in such rapidly changing times. What stands out is that she learned and she lasted. Can any of us do more?
I’m reminded of her courage. She and her family could have fled to Canada during the war. Along with Churchill, they stayed and gave support to those who faced untold trials. She faced the dangers of public life, including at least two attempts on her life.
I think of her faith. Formally the Queen was ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. I sensed there was more. She was not just a Christian monarch but a monarch who was an openly professing Christian. This was evident in her annual Christmas messages, that I made a point to listen to once they were on video. In 2000 she said:
“To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”
Yet she was never parochial or intolerant, practicing warm inter-faith relationships.
She combined representing the Kingdom and the Commonwealth with dignity with setting people at ease. When World War Two ended, she mingled unknown among the celebrating crowds. She could do that no longer once Queen but many pictures showing her setting people at ease, whether children, soldiers, ordinary people, or foreign dignitaries. And who of us will forget how she did this with Paddington Bear during her Platinum Jubilee.
As an American citizen, she was not my Queen. And yet, in both her Jubilee and her passing, I believe in some sense she became the Queen of all of us and today I feel the loss that she is no longer with us, the first day this is so in my life. Her passing reminds me that all of us, even monarchs, are mere mortals. All of us run a race with a finish. The Queen ran hers to the end. Now, may she discover all that she in faith believed and defended. And may she Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory.