“God Save the Queen”

A comment was made by someone last night on either the BBC or on Sky News (right now, I can’t remember which) about the oddity of (the now late) Queen Elizabeth II having been so popular and highly thought of in the United States… despite the American war of independence…

I sat there alongside my (British) wife before the television and was frankly stunned by that stupid observation. “Are you kidding?” I heard myself blurt out back at the TV. “A lot has happened since 1776. That was a VERY long time ago now.”

[Britannia Royal Naval College, March 29, 2022, here in Dartmouth, Devon. A few minutes’ walk from our new front door, it was where, at age 13, Elizabeth first encountered the cadet who would eventually become her husband.]

Queen Elizabeth II was a strong friend of America.

She was almost single-handedly also responsible for the creation of today’s Commonwealth – an extraordinary post-colonial organization – out of the wreckage of the British empire.

And the list could go on…

She was what a head of state should be: She was not about what might divide, but what most brought a people together.

And she was indeed, as I heard asserted on Classic FM a little while ago, in many ways “the nation’s grandma.”

On Tuesday, she received “her” new prime minister (as she had done repeatedly with new prime ministers since 1953), Liz Truss, and was snapped in what I am convinced will become – looking back on it decades from now – one of the iconic photos of this 21st century. Thinking about that now here from Friday morning, I feel as well that it was almost as if she sensed that the end was near and if she died while Boris Johnson was still in the caretaker role (as he had been since July), that it might have sparked some measure of political turmoil in what were already difficult times. So she did her best to “hold on” until the new Government was formally in place… and only THEN, a scant two days later, did she die. 

Duty to the end, one might say. It could have been fictionalized in a film or a novel – and might have been considered hard to believe. But it really happened.

When we mourn the death of a great leader or figure – especially one who dies of old age and who had “always” been with us  – we are in a way mourning the passing of time in our own life (it is a reminder we too are mortal) and expressing nervousness about the future.

Long ago, back in December 1799, the Stars and Stripes flag as of yet meant little to Americans, the Constitution was still very new and just another piece of government paper, and the Declaration of Independence was not yet the legend it has since become. It is difficult for us to imagine today, but Americans in the late 1700s saw George Washington, the living man, as THE embodiment of their United States and THE symbol of their nationhood. (He was also so famous that for Americans in Europe to merely say “George Washington” indicated to Europeans that they were talking to an American.) We may now still celebrate Washington’s birthday every February 22; but his contemporaries had been celebrating his birthday publicly every year since the late 1770s… when he was alive alongside them. So when the news spread – there was no television or internet back then, of course – that he (the former commander-in-chief of the army and by then the VOLUNTARILY retired 1st president – succeeded in 1797 by John Adams, in a world in which NO MAN genuinely then gave up power WILLINGLY) had died at his home on December 14 just a couple of months before his 68th birthday, Americans felt in many ways shattered and could hardly imagine what the future would be without him: How could they possibly be Americans if George Washington was not around?

[Dawn. Dartmouth, Devon, at just after 6am today, September 9, 2022. Photo by me.]

Here, the country mourned King George VI’s early death in 1952 and similarly wondered what the future could have possibly held when his mid-twenties-age daughter had suddenly become Queen…

“God Save the Queen.”

And now in 2022 this United Kingdom awakens today with a new king: Charles III.

“God Save the King.”

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