September 4, 2023

Marking time


Inevitably, the hours and days, the sun and moon, have continued to revolve and September 8th is approaching, the day the late Queen Elizabeth II died last year. In fact, that is a somewhat ironic epithet as she was never late, always punctilious, always kind and courteous, always hopeful with an intrinsic presence and dignity that set her apart.

The first anniversary of any death is hard. HM the Queen had lived through the anniversary of the death of her beloved husband a few months earlier. Every feeling of love and loss wells up, the details, the room, all the moments marking the final journey eddy forward in our minds. The temporality of being here is shared until the time of parting and our imaginations tend to rose tint these moments into the sort of perfect light-filled memories which we search for all our lives.

We write about these vital moments in books and poetry, or letters blotted with tears which are endlessly rewritten but reflect our desire to make or share  something visible about the people we loved.  Pen and paper seem far more meaningful than a few lines of computer or phone text which disappear into a muddled excess in some mythical “cloud”. I continue to treasure the letters I received after my own parents died although I still find them hard to read.

Sometimes such moments are played out in front of us through films and TV such as when the Dowager Countess of Grantham died in the last Downton Abbey film. Grief is both a lonely and shared emotion whether it is endured in real life or watched together in cinemas.

In the old days all the general news used to be disseminated through cinemas. As such, the fact of being together made events more powerful and companionable than today’s isolation of a computer or phone screen when we have to process such things with no feedback. Likewise, writing a letter often leads to a letter received, or a phone call, a voice and a friend.

The death of the Queen was different as it was not only a family bereavement but the death of a global figure who meant an enormous amount to millions of people around the world. She stood for constancy which is a form of courage or endurance in itself, seeming to remain unmoved when under pressure, whether internal or external.

Such constancy is a virtue yet in some circumstances it can be akin to being full of self-deception and pretence. Shakespeare’s Caesar was really bragging of his own superiority and his refusal to be controlled by anyone when he said:

“But I am constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true-fixed and resting quality”

Yet HM the Queen was renowned for her humility, honesty or kindness – as far removed from a Caesar as is possible.  Thomas Aquinas expressed it better when he wrote that perseverance is the virtue which disposes a person to hold steadily to a good purpose, it is fortitude not weakness, calmness not pomposity.

September 8th will be a reflection on a long life of listening, reading and experience. The Queen met people from all walks of life – but here is a quote from one of those whom she met which perhaps is particularly appropriate:

“Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people regardless of station, race, or calling.”