“So, we should just surrender,
Let fate and duty shape us,
Let light hearts remake us,
Let the worries hush.”
One of the privileges of having a blog is that it gives me an opportunity to put my thoughts into writing. And writing gives me an opportunity to put my thoughts into order. The death of Queen Elizabeth II has provoked many of those thoughts and feelings.
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
I’ve used this quote a lot in the last few years but I had completely forgotten where it had come from until this week. It formed part of Queen Elizabeth II’s statement following 9/11, 21 years ago. And it’s an oddly fitting tribute to the woman that I wasn’t consciously aware of where the quote – or the sentiment – had come from. Queen Elizabeth has become so tightly woven into the lives of British people, our culture, our traditions, our standing in the world, that it’s almost hard to identify where Britain ends and she begins.
It’s also sometimes hard to differentiate between her position as monarch and her existence simply as a human being. This is the nub where we can unpick the strands of our emotions about her passing, whatever they are. We can relate to that fact that others have lost an elderly parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, cherished family member or friend. When the event is being felt so viscerally amongst the whole nation, it will inevitably bring us back to our more personal feelings of loss.
And it’s hard not to feel the loss of the Queen personally, especially as a citizen of the United Kingdom. She really has been a constant throughout the whole life of 90% of us. She is the epitome of a figurehead. We carry her face around in our pockets and wallets. She adorns our post and her initials are stamped on post boxes. Medals, military uniforms and police badges will gradually change. A huge range of people from parliamentarians, judges, police officers, armed forces, new British citizens and scouts and girl guides will have all pledged allegiance to the Queen. And of course we have proclaimed “God save the Queen” in our national anthem for over 70 years.
It is unfathomable to me that any British person could state that the Queen was a stranger to them. She was so deeply embedded into our lives that it’s hard not to feel somewhat discombobulated by her absence. However, like all people who travel through our lives, their impact lives on for as long as we wish it to. We don’t just have our memories, both personal and collective. People also live on through our own actions.
I found the Queen incredibly inspirational. Like many I considered what reaction I should post on Facebook (it feels trite, but it’s the reality of our world). I think part of the shock lay in the knowledge that she was working until just two days before her death. My post simply read, “Find a passion that you never want to retire from.” It’s something I’ve come to realise in my own life over the last few years. The Queen often spoke of doing her duty. Hers was a duty bestowed upon her, but can we all be inspired to consider what is our duty (or meaning or purpose)? Can we all find a calling that sustains us until the end of our lives? Can we employ ourselves in work that we don’t feel a desperation to retire from? Can we place ourselves in selfless service in a way that brings us joy and satisfaction?
Agreement with the institution of the monarchy should not diminish your respect or admiration for the Queen herself. As someone put it to me, you can only judge people by how they deal with the situations they find themselves in. The Queen has carried the weight of her responsibility so lightly, with such honour and grace. Can we all be inspired to carry out our lives in a similar fashion?
These thoughts brought to mind a section from the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita talks about us employing selfless service throughout our lives, but importantly the correct service:
“By devotion to one’s own particular duty, everyone can attain perfection. Let me tell you how. By performing one’s own work, one worships the Creator who dwells in every creature. Such worship brings that person to fulfilment. It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly that to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. No-one should abandon duties because he sees defects in them. Every action, every activity, is surrounded by defects as a fire is surrounded by smoke.”The Bhagavad Gita, chapter 18 verse 45-48, trans Eknath Easwaren.
It is perhaps easier to know your duty when you are born into it, or you have it thrust upon you. For most of us, it can take nearly a lifetime trying to establish the purpose of our lives. Many of us never do. There are a lot of things that get in the way. Education, society and parenting can help or hinder us.
Even if we find it difficult to define our purpose, we can still live the life that has been dealt with us with a sense of purpose. I said in a previous blog, “ask yourself every day; What will I do today to move towards or live out my values, my purpose, my goals and my dreams?” Not always easy when you haven’t pinpointed those values, purpose, goals or dreams. So maybe we can spin it around a little. Sometimes it’s easier to consider what we DON’T want. If you’re honest with yourself, you know the actions that you take which will not advance you towards a better life, a more satisfied life. So maybe as a starting point we can stop taking the actions which are incongruent with our values or purpose in life.
I close with another quote from Her Majesty. This was from her Christmas address in 2002. In many ways it’s a simplified version of the Gita quote above, and beautifully puts it into context of now:
“Our modern world places such heavy demands on our time and attention that the need to remember our responsibilities to others is greater than ever.”Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II