A Consequential Weekend
This piece is written the day after the death of Queen Elizabeth and two days before we in the U.S. observe yet another anniversary of our dies horribilis. It will post on the Monday morning after these occurrences, but I ask that you spend a little time with me thinking about these things.
The ritualistic public mourning we see these days upon the death of some celebrity of note (amplified and focused by media, social and otherwise) is a subject worthy of modulated mockery. The death of the Queen does not fall into this category, as she was not a celebrity so much as she was the symbol and personification of a nation and its deep history. I only know a handful of her subjects well enough to correspond, but I felt some primal need to reach out, to comfort, to assure. I genuinely feel bad for the people of the UK today, just as I would if they had lost a family member or a close friend.
Elizabeth lived a consequential life, and she—better than most—understood the call of duty and obligation. In the recent past, we have had a Pope take a knee, an office no less associated with the Almighty than the British crown, but well into her 90’s, Elizabeth remained steadfast. This was her job. It was taken on until death takes her, and that would be its end.
I have lived long enough to see three Presidents impeached (one twice!), a legitimately contested Presidential election and an illegitimately contested Presidential election, an attempted “coup d’etat” in my own country, a worldwide pandemic, World Series wins by the Cubs and the Red Sox, a UVA Men’s Basketball Natty, and men walk on the moon multiple times. I have never seen anyone other than Elizabeth as the monarch in Great Britain. I have never seen a British monarch’s funeral. I have never seen a the coronation ceremony of a British monarch. I will now likely have a chance to see these things.
The British monarchy is something of a curiosity, an anachronism. It has endured in no small part due to Elizabeth’s savviness. It remains to be seen how much of it King Charles III has inherited, but hope endures. There is a need for the example that the monarchy sets and sometimes falls short of.
Another September 11th….
Years ago on my old blog, I wrote about the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, which was at that time block-bustering its way through theaters and creating a great kerfuffle in the movie critic world. I opined something to the effect that it was a movie that was impossible to review fairly. For believers, the power of the imagery and the emotion it disturbed in the soul rendered one unable to find real flaws in it. For unbelievers, the importance of the story and the impact it had on viewers was utterly lost, and so they could not fairly judge it either.
September 11, 2001 is a day something like this. For the overwhelming number of sentient U.S. citizens drawing breath that day, it remains singularly notable. We remember it as it was broadcast to us in real time. The emotions we felt were deep. And real. We will never forget them. Anniversaries stir within us sadness and patriotism. We remember the President. We remember the Queen. We remember the flags and the bands and the SpecOps guys riding horses a month later into battle. We CHOOSE each eleventh day of the ninth month to purposefully remember. Our experiences on that day and our view of how it should be solemnified annually is a function of how we experienced it. And our distance from it.
There were others for whom that day’s experience was quite different. Those who lost loved ones that day dread this anniversary—or at least the ones I know. The very course of their lives changed on that sad and ugly day. Video of planes and burning buildings that awakens anger and patriotism in those of us who were spectators…is evidence of the murder of their husband. Their father. Were the rest of us to utterly ignore this day, it would still be deeply painful to them. That—as a nation—we do quite the opposite, only reinforces the anguish.
People who lost loved ones that day will never be able to talk about or experience that day through the eyes of the interested spectator. It matters not how incredibly moving one’s experience of that day was. It matters not where one was, or who one was with, or how one felt. They have no frame of reference with which to evaluate the spectator’s experience. Their world was virtually destroyed that day.
The rest of us have important memories. But we arrive at this day with a sense of wanting to remember. A sense of wistful longing for the way we felt about our country and each other in the immediate aftermath of the attack. We can only know the experience of the spectator.
I have come to believe that these two very different ways of looking at this day are likely irreconcilable—sort of the way I looked at the two approaches to reviewing the movie I mentioned. The “B to Z” analysis of that day (or that movie) is fundamentally linked to the “A to B” of whether a loved one was lost (or whether one believes).
One word of entirely unsolicited advice to readers who have made it this far. If ever you are in conversation with a widow or orphan or parent or sibling of someone lost on that day (and that status is known to you), try not to burst forth with all of the details of just how bad that day was for you, or what you did on that day, or how scared you were.