While the international community has been actively responding to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we might still need to admit that Her Majesty the Queen—the longest ruling monarch aged 98—was one of the most written-about people in the world whom we actually don't know very much about.
To many of us whose country's original story is the rejection of the monarchy, the British monarch could easily be regarded as a mere figurehead. Indeed, I’ve recently heard people speaking eruditely about the Glorious Revolution of 1688 but jumping airily to a conclusion: what influence could the Queen have when she had no real political power to speak of?
I think this is wrong. And this article is, indeed, not a political one. I will explain…
It is not fair to talk about Elizabeth II’s role in terms of its political impact. Comparing the Queen to someone like the President of the United States is not a good analogy. It is impossible to separate the British monarch from the country, which stands in contrast to any president or prime minister. The very nature of a president means he or she is, first and foremost, a politician whose constituency can sometimes reflect the narrow interests of our worst traits as voters. The late Queen, however, was born to rule. Her motivation was not to win the news cycle or play tricks, but to reign above the noise of politics and faithfully perform her duties and responsibilities.
Queen Elizabeth II was not only the monarch of the United Kingdom, but also the monarch of 15 other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As the British Empire decolonied in the 50s through increased self-governance of its territories, she marked the beginning of the free association of independent states which is now known as the Commonwealth of Nations. To many countries, she not only represented the companion of time and space, but also the spiritual bond—an embodiment of history, tradition and values. And for some nations, the British prime minister is, at best, a "friendly ruler" who can be welcomed or frowned upon. But Her Majesty the Queen was someone special to them: she represented the historical memory.
Elizabeth II's visit to the United States in 1991 was a memorable story for Americans. At that time, in order to pay full respect to her, the United States Congress lifted the hat regulations, but they let her wear a hat. Before entering the Congress, she spoke at the White House. The podium was so high that microphones obscured her face, preventing Americans from getting a glimpse of her in person and on television. Arriving at the Congress, her first words were, "I wish you could see me today," which made the audience full of laughter. The 15-minute speech was then met with several standing ovations.
The Queen was special to many Americans, just as one might see a beloved neighbor as a surrogate grandmother. Through it all, she was a model full of grace, patience, pleasantness and interest in the world around her. She traveled more than a million miles, met the Beatles and Apollo 11 astronauts and hosted the Olympics after taking part in a James Bond spoof. She witnessed the world over the past century. She was adapted to the modern world but didn't learn its traits of coarseness, self-absorption and flightiness. She used radio, television and the internet to maintain her dialogue with the people. What the modern world needed, she learned.
When George Leonard Carey—the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury—bid farewell to the Queen in 2003, saying that he was retiring, the Queen replied: "Well, retirement is not the word for me. I will work until the last possible moment."
Elizabeth II: When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people, and I asked for God's help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days when I was green in judgment, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.
Even though many of us might not necessarily feel personally connected to Queen Elizabeth II, we must acknowledge the great contributions and changes she had made to the world in the past 70 years. By working and doing her duty two days before she passed away (yes, you read that right, two days), she changed the world's perceptions of what dedication is and what it means.
May God bless you Ma’am as you make your final journey.
Sophie Ju is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternating Mondays.
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