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Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Diamond Jubilee for the Diamond Queen

The Queen arriving at the Royal Diamond
Jubilee Thames River Pageant.
While yesterday marked the official start of Britain's Diamond Jubilee Weekend, it was today that served to highlight the love and respect that people around the world have for Queen Elizabeth II.  I imagine that many, many people share my own rather personal feelings of genuine appreciation and affection for this at once remote and very familiar figure.

With a million or more people lining the rain-sopped, seven mile course of The Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant, it's impossible to suggest that there's any noticeable sentiment that the monarchy is a thing of the past.  In fact, over the last ten years since the Queen's Golden Jubilee, it seems to have gone from strength to strength.  Why on earth would such an old-fashioned institution command so much respect and interest in this progressively modern day and age?  Part of it is certainly based on the genuine warmth of people toward Queen Elizabeth II.  Quite simply, she's always been there.  For the vast majority, there was never a time when her face did not appear on the coinage of the realm, or the postage stamps, or standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at times of royal and national celebration.  She is a living constant in an often chaotic world.  Name just about any date in the calendar and you can likely say where the Queen is and what she is doing at that very moment.  Presidents, prime ministers, even other monarchs generally defer to her.  When you say, "the Queen", you are taken to mean only one person - Queen Elizabeth II.

It's also an interesting fact that, despite appearances, the Queen and the institution she heads, has changed fundamentally over the past sixty years.  She's kept up with the times, and she's made absolutely sure that both she and the monarchy itself have remained relevant in the modern world.  Despite what Britain's republicans claim, and most Americans think, the Queen and her family matter to a lot of people...  And they matter very much.   My late step-father, an Englishman who embraced his American citizenship fully, was still, at heart, an adoring subject of his monarch.  A retired major in the British Army of World War II, he was unfailingly emotional any time he watched a royal spectacle, most especially when "God Save the Queen" was sung and the image of the Queen herself came into view.  Personally, even I get a little choked up while watching these occasions.

Senior members of the British Royal Family aboard
the Royal Barge The Spirit of Chartwell.

I can understand that it's hard to understand for many people.  It's a sort of magic, I suppose.  A royal family, and a monarch, are, for their subjects, the living embodiment of the nation.  They are a real and relatable focus for people in good times and bad.  They are people who, by the nature of their birth, devote their lives to the service of their country - most for better, some for worse.  It's an old-fashioned idea, but for the United Kingdom, and several other very prosperous countries in the world, it works.  But, it's more than that.  For many, it's a very personal connection.  You may not believe it, but talk to just about anyone who's actually met the Queen, or received recognition through the British honours system (often personally bestowed by HM).

From an entirely personal standpoint, I can't explain my own interest in the British Royal Family completely rationally.  There's the history, the pomp and pageantry, the palaces and art and jewels.  There's the castles and museums and music and ceremony.  There's a sense that, as a political system, it works particularly well.  But, there's more.  There's a personal appreciation for the Queen herself.  An affection that springs from respect for someone who does one's duty no matter what.  That embodiment of the best of a nation or, even more broadly, people in general.  A living tie with the past and an anchor from which to move forward into the future.  A rather glamorous touch of color in a sometime drab world scene.

While Britain celebrate's the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I, like many thousands around the world who have no national or political connection to her, look on with a certain sense of pride, if only British by affection, in this remarkable woman who has served for sixty very challenging years.

A crowd surges toward Buckingham Palace
at the Golden Jubilee in 2002.  Expect to see crowds
like this, perhaps even larger, on Tuesday
morning following the Service of Thanksgiving at
St. Paul's Cathedral.

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