News of The Queen’s death evoked a separation of hearts and minds. Her mere longevity provided continuity and some sort of steadfastness that was somehow comforting in its familiarity and otherworldliness.
The Queen, of course, was Elizabeth II, whose reign approximated an average human lifespan. She was emblematic of life as a constancy. She sustained her throne as her empire shrank. Her seeming sense of loyalty, duty, grace, stoicism —and yes, longevity—seemed to be the embodiment of the United Kingdom. She personified the UK. Well, she personified the aspiration or cultural myth of the UK in the way that the cowboy (and reality star) personified the USA.
She was feminine and strong. Hearty, hale, maternal and carrying a purse everywhere, she also exuded grace and dignity as power. In our minds, she was Claire Foy and Olivia Coleman, only after she was Helen Mirren.
When news broke that The Queen had died, I was initially surprised, which surprised me. She was 96 and apparently in failing health recently. Not a great surprise. But because of The Queen Crafting, the news of her health was rather vague prior to her passing, and in no way indicated anything imminent. Like her life, her death was a matter of statecraft.
Whatever attributes were associated with her stirred hearts and minds. My second thought upon the news of her death was how strange it is in this moment to grieve for the queen. The reflections of The Queen—Elizabeth II—as a towering figure who believed in her duties and service, and who I believe lived her life truly dedicated (whether or not is was self preservation), understood that she provided something necessary. Ironic, isn’t it? Monarchy is not necessary, yet she made it seem too important to discard.
I thought of how she manifested not just that with which we identify as British—that stiff upper lip, keeping calm and carrying on—and a country with deep history evidenced by relics of the Middle Ages, but how her maternalism has been so embraced. The one who was scorned for being the cold mother-in-law at a time of profound grief when Diana was tragically killed, somehow became the beloved old lady who was heartier than many people who were decades younger than she. (Of course, she didn’t really have to multitask that much.)
Hearts across the world yearn for steady, hearty, graceful, dignity. She maintained her depth of service and ability to keep calm and carry on through wars, terrorism, economic pain, loss of empire, Brexit, the COVID19 pandemic, and profound cultural changes that seem to accelerate each decade…not to mention her family soap opera that preceded her coronation and will undoubtedly follow her funeral.
Americans gush over the pageantry that the Brits do magnificently. Americans adore it! The emotional reaction to all things The Crown/The Queen is somewhat bizarre to me at this juncture in our unfolding history. It’s easy to love competency and longevity in the face of unsettling events. And there are so few women leaders, much less of the stature of The Queen—THE Queen—that I had sadness that there are so few women of importance on the world stage. One more gone. Of course many saw her as irrelevant and the ultimate symbol of not only income inequality, blind privilege, and an indecent structure, but as the embodiment of imperialism and an anachronistic anti-democratic system that has no place in the modern world.
I appreciate (and reacted to) those assessments almost simultaneously. What if the monarch were (a) Trump? I am profoundly anti-monarch. Elizabeth II may have been The Queen, and she certainly completed her life as The Queen of Hearts, beloved and admired. But in this moment, when authoritarianism is on the rise globally, and our own democracy is threatened daily from within, we need to check this gushing of absolute power.
We have had what was once a unique, yet still magnificent, tradition of peaceful change. Our continuity was not displayed by gilded carriages (or buildings), or by DNA. Our political DNA includes change and oversight. Change is the constant here. Change every 4 or 8 years at the highest level demands broader and deeper thinking, participation, commitment to principles that must be shared (or at least driven by some level of consensus), where all people are represented and take part.
Never before have I felt such profound love and grief for the USA. Even 21 years ago, when the most terrifying and devastating event shocked us along with the rest of the world, I was in fear of instant annihilation, not a slow moving coup from within. Both are terrifying and also terribly sad. But this moment in our history makes my heart ache daily. I grieve not for The Queen, but for the loss of all that I cherished for humanity and that I thought was nurtured, if not born, here in the USA.
The end of a regal woman’s life deserves appreciation. You may feel sad. I appreciate that. But be wary of loving The Monarchy. If we are seeking cultural myths and figures to uplift us, much less political solutions to current problems, then get busy participating in American Democracy and growing it, not watching it be dismantled.