If you can say one thing about the last ten days it’s that much of the world has been united by attention towards the passing away of the late Queen. Amid the grief and sadness there has been gratitude for and celebration of her life. We’ve heard it said so many times and yet it still rings true; this was the knowledge and acknowledgement of what a life well lived is meant to look like.
There’s fatigue undoubtably too, not least that lined in the face of Charles and not only in the miles trekked so studiously, with such care and unnegotiable precision from the Abbey, along the crowds and carnations of the Long Walk. It’s been a kind of marathon for us all, and not just those queueing for the lying in of state – the saturated coverage in the news, so often strangely soothing, was an attempt at making sense of what had seemed unthinkable – the loss of such a constant servant, an intermediary between the people and the politicians, between us all and something instinctively higher; if nothing else a bastion of what old decency is meant to look like. Anywhere else in the world it might all look archaic, here some sense of continuity seems settled in our blood.
We know this is the finest show of, if not an old guard, then something with an ancient precedent. The degree to which its qualities are carried into this dawning era will perhaps be a reflection of how relevant the monarchy is to be seen to us all as we navigate the times ahead. It is to be seen what lessons, what themes and instruction, can be drawn from a family, not to be envied, and everything they represent – not as some national distraction or soap opera if not always exactly an actual fairy tale but as ultimate servants to us all. They must sacrifice opinions and overt leverage over issues they undoubtedly hold dear. They represent us at our best, for the most part, but just as we may appreciate their quiet stewardship, the well-being of the nation rests in every one of us – to use our influence, our voice, to serve that which we value; aware that, at times, the meek may inherit very little and common good often has to be strived for.
The establishment, whatever that is, is only as good as its constituent parts – the public polity is the foundation on which everything must be built. We can start with ourselves then as we seek to build a better world just as surely as we can hold those elected to account. But some things, fortunately, are above such striving; service, even our own sovereignty as individuals, form part of the traffic on a two-way street. It’s probably as good a time as ever to consider social contracts – that the state is there to guarantee the well-being of its citizens; a thing always wise to reflect on.
For now at least we can take comfort, if we wish, in the ancient rituals, the final gleam and glamour of a reign inaugurated in an age of empire as we face a new world we must strive to do right by, whose challenges need no rehearsal, proclamation or lament. None of us need telling that the world today is utterly changed from seventy years ago and yet something of – or something borne out from – that older world in some respects can serve us. The generation during and after the last world war sought to build a new society, where we sheltered the weak and vulnerable while the mighty paid their way. We shouldn’t forget the then controversy of that, of that which had to be fought for or the clear realisation then of those who held the reins that this was our best defence against descent into a repeat of the domestic strife that had fuelled the conflagrations which had so pitted that century up to that point.
Such times as these call for forbearance as well as well as a greater sense of our responsibilities. We know the gifts we have inherited, the way in which, as Newton put it, we stand upon the shoulders of giants. We can still avoid populism, factionalism while keeping our – and the – peace; joining a great effort to speak as with one voice for the things we should cherish – fraternity, our living earth, seeking to look after the poor while challenging the ones who’d do them down.
We can do so while still seeking unity, consensus, while honouring the power of debate. But we should not forget we have agency too – that while we now have a new king, we all have it in us to serve our country, our very world, in ways that some of the apparently powerful, whatever their station, may not. Right now, we have just this – the sombre reflection of what true service can look like; a great dedication to the people and the land, passing up and over, passing on, a gravitas reminding us that very little lasts forever, that we must all do all we can with what time – that fleeting agent, sometimes guarantor – can still potentially grant us.