I write this just hours after learning of the death of Great Brittain's Queen Elizabeth II. Here in California, miles, traditions, and historical distance from the UK, the news struck me more deeply than I'd expected. A genuine sadness and sense of loss that feels personal and acute. I'm sorting all that out now as I write – and here are thoughts that come to mind.
First - I feel unqualified to write about a woman so exalted – a person I've only known through news stories and the viewpoint of my British relatives. But I feel connected to the country through my own childhood thanks to my grandfather (and surrogate father), Frank Darby. He left England's West Midlands aboard a ship as a 15-year-old boy, settled in Minnesota, married a Polish lass, and became head of a household that included me. He occasionally sailed back to England to visit his family, returning home with a little costumed doll and stories of his homeland. Dreams about England – with its kings and queens and fairytale history lulled me to sleep.
When I was 40-something, I traveled there, taking with me old letters with names and addresses from papers my Papa had left behind. There I found and bonded with family who cemented my affection, my connection to the country of his birth. We remain in touch – with frequent emails and sharing a daily game of "Words with Friends" online.
I'm aware that plenty of people in England do not favor the privilege and wealth of the royal family – natural criticisms in a free country. But I've seldom heard a critical word about the country's longest reigning monarch – Queen Elizabeth II. Despite how one views monarchy, this Queen in our lifetime represented a slice of permanence in a world of constant upheaval. People in a position to have known her well say the Queen's ability to remain constant in her daily routines and priorities - helped her flow gracefully through decades with the weight of history and the well-being of a country on her shoulders.
Since she became the youngest monarch to ascend to the British throne, her reign included elements of a fairy tale (a magical marriage of love to Prince Phillip for 70 years). But the throne was also a prison of inherited responsibility. Her life defined by centuries-long traditions that dictated what she could and could not do, how to behave, what she may or may not say. Down to the small details, such as women not crossing their legs at the knee at royal functions – doing so at the ankles better preserves the 'royal' posture.
Most of us are awe-struck by the trappings of wealth surrounding the royal family and the exceptional privilege afforded to them. But the Queen, in particular, could never experience the privilege of personal freedom that we commoners take for granted. The freedom to say and do regrettable things, to make mistakes in public, to behave like a flawed human being, to have close confidants and friends – these simple gifts are not for a royal to freely enjoy.
Queen Elizabeth carried herself gracefully through world and domestic affairs – and remained above the mortal frailties that put many in her extended family on the front page of tabloids and talk shows. Her self-discipline and judgment were consistent with her unparalleled sense of responsibility. Queen Elizabeth II walked gracefully through a lifetime defined by ancient rules guiding her private and public behavior.
People working in the Queen's household who knew her best and longest are reporting that her unflappable adherence to constancy of beliefs and behaviors defined her reign. From the foods she enjoyed to her beloved corgies and horses, the pace of her life was measured and managed but not at all static. She transitioned flawlessly from the newsprint generation to the interconnected digital world. She did it all with grace and good humor – appearing in a short film with 007 (Daniel Craig) after watching her stunt-double parachute from a plane. Or the time hikers near her property failed to recognize the Queen, handed her their camera, and asked her to take their photo – which she happily did without explanation.
Queen Elizabeth II fulfilled the promise she made to the United Kingdom. And to a lonely little girl in America's midwest who will miss her presence but always dream of England's Good Queen. Long will she reign.
Thanks for your attention - I value your time and feel privileged to talk with you. In my part of the world we are again experiencing the ravage of wildfires. For now, we are safe, but thousands only miles from our home are not - they're running from flames and bringing back memories of OUR evacuation last year at this time. I will see how I can help - and report back next time we meet. Hoping you are safe and well - Darby
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