About eight weeks back, we stood at the entrance to Buckingham Palace and waved at the Queen. Well, actually, our wave was intended for Her Majesty, but we don’t really know if she was at home that day or peering out her window. Then, we snapped our typical tourist pics as bona fide proof we were there. The beefeaters with their tall fuzzy, black hats and red jackets opened the gates to the palace, entered the portico, only to walk back out a few minutes later carrying a suitcase. I wonder if it had Paddington’s marmalade stashed inside.
The text dinged in from our Scottish friends last week just moments before American news reports.
Two words. “She’s gone.”
“The queen died peacefully at Balmoral Estate today,” read the news ticker.
Like the queen, who loved her Scottish home best, if I got my choice about where to die, the Highlands would be on my short list too. And now with the heather carpeting the hills interwoven with the color palette of greens and the sheep leisurely feasting on the table set before them, it doesn’t take much holy imagination to see the Shepherd, Queen Elizabeth leaning on His strong arm, wearing her wellies and a plaid wool scarf walking toward the next hill through the misty rain, trading one world for another.
Being Americans, many of us find a political system that has both a ruling government and reigning nobility disorienting. Our presidents come and go every four to eight years and generally we don’t get that attached—well, except maybe for Trump worshippers. We are, after all, rugged individualists who make our own way in the world. Our heroes are the folks with rags to riches yarns, the ones who grew up in poverty, created a line of boujie vegan dog biscuits or hipster computers with a cute little apple on the cover or a swanky casino empire with their name in neon lights. We’re skeptical, even grudgy about the families who were born with a silver spoon and pass it on like they’re in a relay race. The idea of living off taxpayer sovereign grants and a privy purse doesn’t win a popularity contest for most Americans.
But it’s different in the UK and other places where the Queen has ruled a conglomerate of nations. There is an abiding loyalty between the Sovereign and many of her subjects. For the Brits especially, she’s been the steady these past seventy plus years, which might as well be forever for the vast majority of their population. This loss, for our international family is monumentally historic.
Since September 8, some have been glued to their screens watching live coverage of the pomp and circumstance while others are at least slightly annoyed that a person who enjoyed every opulent luxury in life continues to be pampered post-mortem while simultaneously countless other average, everyday humans lived and also died on September 8, 2022.
And in recognition of those other humans and the ones who love them, I express my sincerest condolences as you grieve your losses. Here’s what I know to be true—that every soul God breathed life into matters equally to Him. That Jesus didn’t play favorites on the cross. And while our mortal stories are written with one of a kind diversity, God is attentive to every single one. Your beloved matters to Him and so do you.
Honestly, I struggle to reconcile British colonization and other inequities of life. I was born white in the USA where indoor plumbing, clean water and air conditioning are standard even up north where it’s only appreciated for about 6 weeks of the year– off and on. I’m privileged. Simultaneously, others in my universal family are drinking the water they bathe in and living with PTSD in refugee camps for decades after experiencing the trauma of genocide. Someday, I’ll get embalmed and buried in a satiny casket while someone else’s carcass will get dumped in a ditch. As a christian, I find these realities hard to make sense of.
Queen Elizabeth, she lived a really cushe life. But everyone’s story has its very own hard and not even royals get a pass. There’s power jockeying between leaders on the world stage. And security concerns. There’s the utter lack of privacy. The imperative of political neutrality. The cumbersome protocols of ettiquete. The expectation of spot-on diplomacy every time. The pressure of knowing that the worldwide web will plaster a picture of the booger in your nose at a state dinner, your wardrobe malfunction on a windy moor or editorialize on the mid-life stone you gained right at the midline. Professional lip readers will share your words intended to be communicated privately on the evening news, assess the warmth in your body language with your husband. Extrapolate messages in your clothing choices and hairstyle.
24/7 you live in a fishbowl.
You are not your own. You are the House of Windsor. No autonomy for you. You are a part of a machine. And so is your family. You didn’t chose it and you might not want it but you were born into it and it is your destiny.
No shopping days at the mall with a Starbucks and an Aunt Annie pretzel for you. The system dresses you.
No meandering through the aisles at Meijer scoping out tonight’s dinner ingredients. The system feeds you.
No leisurely lunches sharing secrets across the table at Panera Bread with a good friend. The system socializes you.
No Zillow searches or planting annuals in the garden by your front door. The system houses you.
And the paparazzi, they follow your family everywhere for the express purpose of substantiating or fabricating a juicy story and slapping a catchy headline on it that will boost sales to curious readers.
As a parent, you miss your child’s first step, losing her first tooth, reading his first word, performing in her first dance recital, playing his first competitive game of cricket because you are on tour for the sake of the Crown.
And like the rest of us, you experience the loss, grief and family drama common to man.
Truth is, that while we might like the perks of royalty, the price tag on those creature comforts is more than most of us would be willing to pay. Bottom line is that the Queen lived into her particular calling faithfully for all ninety six years God gave her life and breath and I think that deserves honorable mention.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I like funerals better than weddings. Here’s why. Weddings represent pie crust promises that haven’t yet been tested. Funerals recount what it actually looks like to live in the integrity of those commitments over the long haul. And that inspires me.
What is my calling?
How am I living into it today?
These are the questions we ask as we reflect on a life well lived. As Queen Elizabeth embraced the work for which she was chosen, may I be faithful to the unique calling that is mine alone. Writing generative stories. Creating lasting legacies. Leaving some corner of the world better than I found it.
In July, we walked the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, the same route her funeral carriage will take. We attended an Evensong service in the Abbey too. Sat in the same chairs the elite few thousand will warm for her funeral on September 19. Listened as the spoken Word ricocheted off the walls making it hard to catch. Stepped over the graves in the ornate floor where famous historical figures who left their mark were laid to rest.
God bless them.
God bless the Queen.
God bless me.
And God bless you.
Not because we deserve it. We don’t. But because His love is long and high and wide and deep and His mercies are new every single day, He does.
And may each of our lives, not perfectly, but faithfully respond to that blessing with the lyrics of Ben Rector’s song. The one that wakes me up every morning, reminding me of the top priority on my daily to-do list.
“Please let me make something beautiful. A thing that reminds us there’s good in the world.”