She could have been Mrs. Jones
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We all knew it would happen eventually.
We may not have expected it in the same year as her jubilee marking 70 years on the throne, but we must have known that Queen Elizabeth would pass away, likely sooner than later.
At the age of 96, the Queen certainly continued working far longer than any of us will or can hope to stay involved, and despite being hindered by mobility issues she carried on the affairs of state even the day before she died.
Her longevity and perseverance may have been foreseen; her own mother, the venerable Queen Elizabeth, who was queen consort to King George VI, lived past 100 and likewise continued working until very near the end. The Queen’s father died young – only in his 50s – but her uncle, the Duke of Windsor and former King Edward VIII, lived to a ripe old age in relative obscurity in Paris. Other royal relatives, dukes of Kent and Gloucester, even Lord Louis Mountbatten (killed by terrorists in 1979), enjoyed long lives.
Simply living long, however, has little to do with reigning as monarch save for the obvious stability of having the same head of state for so many years, and Queen Elizabeth’s legacy must be acknowledged as far greater than merely her advanced age and the seven decades in which she wore the crown.
In her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth presided over a dissolution of the British Empire and the notable relinquishment of colonial India and its partition to create Pakistan; and a resolute conversion of long-held territories to nations of the Commonwealth. These include Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and the Queen would close out her reign as head of state in no fewer than 14 countries in addition to the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Affairs of state for each of these countries, involvement in the government of the dozens of others who are Commonwealth members, and serving as head of the Anglican Church and as commander in chief of the armed forces provided a volume of work that would occupy our tireless monarch deep into the night.
Those of you who felt she did little more than wave at the masses through the windows of gilded carriages have been blind to the nature of a constitutional monarchy and the demands it puts on those who lead it, let alone a further 14.
I have been fortunate to have seen the Queen on a few occasions and to have met her in person just once, about 35 years ago, in my home town of Canterbury, where she had traveled for a business meeting with church leaders.
I happened to be walking through town when I spotted a policeman standing in front of a building I knew well, and a small crowd had gathered at a respectful distance. There were no barricades, no teams of armed guards; there was not even a convoy of dark limousines and police cars waiting. Just a single large black Rolls Royce discreetly adorned with the Royal Standard.
“The Queen is in the building with Prince Philip,” the policeman told me. “You can wait, if you like. She’ll be out in a minute.”
I did as suggested and, after a moment or two, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh emerged. She wore a wool coat and a headscarf. She could have been Mrs. Jones from the butcher’s shop.
She came to me directly and looked me in the eye.
“Good morning, Your Majesty.”
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No, Ma’am. I just arrived.”
“Oh, splendid. Lovely day, isn’t it?”
It was chilly and grey, but that didn’t matter any more. When one met the Queen, one was immediately lifted out of the ordinary trappings of life. One felt singled out, honored, cared about, even mothered a little.
We exchanged a few more words, and I honestly don’t remember what. It didn’t matter.
What mattered to me at that moment, as it did for every one of her subjects when they met her, was that for those few seconds when we were in her audience and when she quizzed us or replied to us, she knew we existed.
It was all we could have asked, and she dedicated her life and her work to us, tirelessly and dutifully.