We have certain characters… fictional characters… who have acted as proxy guides and, in some cases, guardian angels as we traverse the decades of our lives. Role models, and we absolutely need role models, help us to understand the amorphous goals of what we want to become. Sometimes these are purely career related; sometimes they have a transcendency about them that goes far beyond a chosen profession and help shape our character and emotional resiliency.
Most of us, at least those of us who recognize this and are not self-conscious about admitting it, use different characters for different purposes. Sometimes one or more of these “characters” moves front and center in our mind’s stage during certain times in our lives, then retreat to the rear when their guiding purpose has been achieved. Yet they are still there, waiting in the wings, making a step forward to give us a didactic monologue when the moment calls for it.
As I said, some of these characters are our interpretations of real people, both living and historic, and other times they are complete works of fiction. Their value to us is not relegated to a specific gender. (Though I suspect most boys tend to look for inspiration from prominent men, and most girls probably look towards prominent women, but I have no empirical evidence to support that beyond my own anecdotal surveys.) More importantly, the characters we look at for inspiration are often products of our own interpretations of those figures, and they are usually one dimensional interpretations. Humans are complex subjects and our heroes, both real and imagined, are, by definition, equally complex, but we don’t see them that way. We see them as giants and pure. We need to see them that way, otherwise the contradictions in their lives would limit their usefulness to us.
My own “heroes” who live within me and have walked with me are a fairly diverse bunch. From Benjamin Franklin, and Washington, to Atticus Finch, Indiana Jones, and James Bond… I am sure that in the recesses of my mind they are enjoying lively conversations in the cocktail lounge I have created for them.
One such “hero”, one that I don’t call upon all too frequently, but she is there and has been there for quite some time, just passed in real life, and we all were treated to a couple of weeks of honoring her passing. Of course, I am speaking of Queen Elizabeth II.
It may be odd for an American, who has spent very little time in the United Kingdom, and does tend to be somewhat of a Francophile, to have elevated someone possessed with power by heredity to a place of such honor. There is a reason for this. It is an important reason, and one that might be instructive to all of us:
The quality of people, their value to a society, and the inspiration they provide is the singular measure of who they are. How they achieved that status be it through birth, grit, inheritance, the lottery, or by pure chance, is of little instructive value. The real litmus test is what did they do with it when they got it? What Queen Elizabeth did was magnificent.
What she did not do was give the slightest nod towards her personal political beliefs. This is important. Not because she was disinterested in politics. I suspect that was clearly not the case. She did this… acted this way… because she knew her job was to be the great singular point of reference for the people of the UK. She was more than a national cheerleader, though she was that… she was, as my good friend and UK transplant Richard Paul said, a “moral compass”.
He did point out her record of not showing political deference was not unblemished, however. There was one anomaly that was uniquely touching. On September 12, 2001 the Queen ordered her guard to play the Star Spangled Banner at Buckingham Palace.
The woman had class.
The United States does not have a king. We almost did. There was a large movement to grant that title to George Washington, but he rejected the idea. He was right to do this, but I suspect even he did not know the future wisdom of his decision. The uniting principle of the United States is not in the uniqueness of a single person or a single family. The one thing that potentially can bind the disparate cultures of the farmers of Nebraska, the inner-city residents of Chicago, the Bay-Area new agers, the Germanic industrialists of New England, and the thousands of sub-cultures that exist between them is an enduring reverence to our Constitution and our Constitutional Republic.
To be sure, that reverence is tenuous right now, but that is the one social glue that can bind us as a nation.
The United Kingdom, which until relatively recently was far more of a homogenous society than the United States and clearly geographically smaller, of course, has a rich history of parliamentary and representative government, but they also have the regency. Queen Elizabeth was starkly aware of her role as that focal point for her people. Her lack of political machinations and intrigue frankly resulted from her realization that was simply not her job. More to the point, had she engaged in those types of partisan actions, she would have been alienating at least some of her subjects, which was, by definition, contrary to her job.
Even for those of us who fell outside her reign, Queen Elizabeth was a constant in our lives. During the relatively short period I’ve been sashaying around this planet she has sat on the throne of England. She may not have been “my” queen, but she was “the” queen, and even the simple reference in conversation needed no further description. More than one queen is on the planet right now, on various thrones from Asia to the Middle East, yet “The Queen” clearly meant… cleary means… Queen Elizabeth II.
She may have passed, but her legacy will live on. She resides in the hearts of her subjects and will continue to do so. I can only hope that her son, King Charles III, will provide the same service to his country as his mother did. So far, he seems to be embracing his new responsibilities. The Prince of Wales, and his somewhat relaxed filtering system, has been abandoned for the greater role of King.
She may have shuffled off her mortal coil, but as I said, she is still present, not just in the hearts of her subjects, but in the minds of millions around the world… like my own. I am quite sure she is enjoying her time in my fabricated mental cocktail lounge with Mr. Bond, Mr. Franklin, and Mr. Finch.