God Save the Queen.
My recent trip to London gave me a glimmer of understanding of what the monarchy means.
I actually remember the summer of 1981 fairly well. It was the summer that Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the summer of Prince Charles' wedding to Princess Diana. It was also the summer that I backpacked through Europe and the last (and only) time I was in London, until this past week.
I remember vividly all the hoopla surrounding this supposed "fairy tale" wedding and I also remember being completely confounded by it. Why was it such a big deal? Why did it capture the imagination of so many? What was the attraction of the monarchy? Why did it continue to survive? My North American mind just could not compute.
Fast forward 35 (gasp!) years later. I am once again in London and this time the hoopla is focused on the Queen's 90th birthday. Yes, if I didn't know before I certainly know now that she is the longest reigning monarch. There has been some nice china commissioned in her honor, not to mention tea towels and actual tins of tea. It is big news.
And this time around I feel less dismissive (although not sure I want to be immortalized on a tin of Earl Grey!). I feel less scornful, less openly contemptuous. I am glad to discover that at least my character has improved over that last 35 years!
I think I now have a glimmer of understanding of what the monarchy means and what it can do for a nation and its people.
When we see a king or queen, we make a blessing – not because of their royal robes or carriage or tiara or even their magnificent castles (should I tell you about our side trip to Blenheim Palace?) but because seeing flesh and blood royalty gives us just the barest hint of the glory of the Almighty, just the faintest taste of the awe we should have for our King of kings.
This is what the monarchy can accomplish. It lifts us out of ourselves. It gives us a moment of transcendence. For just the briefest second, my difficulties and challenges and disappointments disappear. I am lifted into a "fairy tale" world of kings and queens and pageantry and power.
It's true that their lives are all too human – complicated and messy just like ours. But the power of the monarchy is not the involvement in their personal intrigues but its ability to give us the sense of something more – something greater, something more meaningful, something bigger than me and my seemingly petty concerns.
I couldn't see it all those years ago. And maybe I didn't need to. Even now the queen's birthday celebrations don't quite lift me out of my struggles and, thank God, I have the Almighty to turn to for that. But I can appreciate the power of her role and her image and why the British people may want and even need her.
It's the desire for meaning. It's the hope for transcendence.