Why loving words for the Queen came too late
The death of the Queen has reverberated through London ever since her passing. She is on everyone’s lips. Politicians line up to pay respects on the airwaves, trying to sound human rather than humanoid. Loving notes float in from around the globe. Social media pushes royal content. The Queen’s face is on every billboard and shop front. Palace fences are adorned with flowers, knitted corgis, the odd Cadbury’s chocolate bar, and kids’ pencil drawings of the Queen with somewhat stern eyebrows. Some have even left by the fence neatly packed jam sandwiches, as a nod to the Queen’s famous film with Paddington Bear.
The already dysfunctional London traffic slows down to a crawl and forms a queue next to the queue of humans waiting to see the Queen’s coffin. Alongside is yet another queue of camera crews filming the snake of humans.
Young minds, like my five-year-old, try to understand why we put dead people in wooden boxes and to grapple with afterlife. Prince Louis reportedly said: “At least Grannie is with Great Grandpa now”. Our little one’s reaction was more scientific: “Mamma, please call the Queen and ask her if there is life after death”. Having traversed to the afterlife, the Queen was clearly an ideal source of first-hand information on this question. Obviously, our Teddy was confident that the post-earthly Queen still has access to a mobile phone (perhaps alongside a few soft toy corgis and jam sandwiches), and that I have her number.
You don’t have to agree on the best form of government, or the legacy and future of the royal institution (on which I very much hear Akima Paul Lambert here) to agree on this:
There has been an outpouring of love. The up to 30-hour queue to pay respects to her appears even more devoted than the showing of support for her recent Platinum Jubilee celebration while she was alive. Telling words were uttered by the legendary David Beckham who, standing in the queue, said “We all want to be here together. We all want to experience something where we celebrate the amazing life of our Queen”.
It brings to mind that Amy Winehouse’s record sales shot back to the top of the British albums after her death. Lawyers in the arbitration circuit gathered recently to celebrate a fellow lawyer who had passed away, finally free to share superlatives about the intellectual powerhouse.
What strikes me the most is this: the human mind feels free to express unrestrained words of praise only after a person’s passing.
It is as though we were afraid to face the consequences of admitting each other’s full fabulousness.
I ask myself this: what if the Palace had shared with the world a week prior to the Queen’s passing that she was increasingly frail, and likely to die? Let us assume that such an announcement could have been made as a matter of law, protocol and orderly transfer of power, and that such a prediction would have been possible. And let us assume that the millions of messages of appreciation would have come in a week earlier and that the Queen thus could have witnessed them. I would have liked the Queen to hear and feel the respect and devotion she has earned through her service. She might have died even safer in the knowledge that her efforts and sacrifice were appreciated.
That reward is important because power isolates. The irony of power is that the rarefied space that allows you to serve, disconnects you from those you serve. A sovereign, president or A-lister cannot stroll casually to the corner shop for milk and to chat about today’s headlines, and feel the satisfaction of the human bond formed during that discussion. And yet it is the human connection that creates happiness. The expressions of appreciation seen recently are the best kind of connection: words of spontaneous love, without an agenda, without wanting something in return from the Queen.
That celebration is also important for those of us not in power. It brings us joy – see the “Harvard Happiness Study” here. Gratitude for our loved ones has incredible cognitive benefits. The excellent Lumi Power Yoga by the wise Ari and Elina Iso-Rautio, offers a free and short gratitude meditation in which one takes a moment to appreciate oneself and loved ones (10 Min Gratitude Meditation by Lumi Power Yoga (soundcloud.com)). When I do it with my kids, they are much more at peace and disagree with each other less. As Ari says, gratitude for others and for ourselves is like drinking liquid sunshine.
The word obituary comes from the Latin word “demise”. And I recognise the value of an obituary and funeral in allowing us to celebrate a life lived, to reflect and to mourn.
But I would also like to propose that we shed our fear and speak those words of love sooner. The Latin word for the verb “to cherish” is “foveam”, or so Google tells me. Why not also write “fovituaries”, to recognise one another whilst on this planet.
Let us celebrate each other, right here and now, without fear of embarrassment.
Long may we love the Queen. And may our love for each other be seen.