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The Passing of a Queen
Reflections on Queen Elizabeth II
With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we are forced to confront once again the reality that an era so vibrant to those of us who lived through it is quickly passing into the permanent realm of history. For those of us who were her peers, her loss carries a special poignance.
Whatever one thinks of the institution of the British Monarchy, or monarchies more generally, there is no denying the role the late queen played on the world stage. She was a constant in a sea of chaos. She was the living embodiment — majestic, sure-footed, seeming divinely ordained — of a Great Britain that once had been and is no longer. She provided a sense of steadiness and continuity during her country’s transitions. Her passing carries a significance far greater than her official duties would indicate.
Elizabeth came of age during the horrors of World War II, when her nation’s very survival was in doubt. Circumstances thrust her father and then her into the role of monarch in ways neither of them had anticipated. And from her perch as queen, Elizabeth presided over a tumultuous seven decades — the dissolution of the British Empire, social and economic upheaval, and the emergence and decline of the Cold War.
I will leave it to others to pore over the details of her life during the wall-to-wall coverage. It has always struck me as a bit incongruous how fascinated many Americans are with the trappings of monarchy more generally. But with the late queen, I can certainly understand the interest. She was historic. She was history. And the well-known drama of her heirs — their complicated personalities, ambitions, and scandal-tinged life stories — will now take center stage without her prestige or overall goodwill with the public to help guide events.
What this will mean for Great Britain is unclear. The country is already in the midst of an era of instability and uncertainty. Will the monarchy survive the tumult? And if so, in what form? Everyone knew this day would come, but there is an air of unpreparedness nonetheless. When something or someone is as enduring as Queen Elizabeth, there is almost an expectation that it or they will go on forever, even if we know that is impossible.
My thoughts are with those who loved her deeply. She was, after all, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. I have also always had great admiration and affection for Great Britain and its people. I wish the nation well during a time of uneasy transition.
I also think back to the times when she and I were younger. I think of a world that faced existential threats and somehow survived. I think of moments of joy and struggle. I think of the social progress we have made, including around the expectations of women in public life — in which she played an important role. I think about how much more we need to do. I think of the subsequent generations who have picked up the mantle of leadership. I think of the challenges they are facing. I hope they learn from our mistakes and find some inspiration in our successes.
I think of how the past always passes, how society evolves, how we can’t hold onto where we were forever. Change and the circle of life are indelible parts of the human experience.
Ultimately, we will be judged by what we made of our time here on Earth. And I think by that metric, history will be kind to Queen Elizabeth. She was human and imperfect, like us all, but she served her nation well. She will be missed. May she rest in peace.
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