Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Duty Personified

I was almost late for work yesterday. I'm not usually in a great hurry to get to the office, but I am fairly regular in the time I leave the house and arrive at my destination about 4 miles away. Yesterday, though, I admit I dawdled -- deliberately. What captivated me was the last episode in the four-day span of the Queen's Jubilee celebration, celebrating Elizabeth II's sixty years on the British throne. For an avowed anglophile, The BBC America was a very close companion for large chunks of the four days of celebration.

My first memory of the monarch was the National Geographic edition of September 1953, an edition which featured photos of the coronation that had taken place that June and showed the crown jewels. I was all of seven years old and I was hooked. Over the years I have devoured biographies and documentaries featuring the royals, especially the Queen, and watched her children grow up in magazines, newsreels and picture books. Over the years, my interest in the royals has grown to include much that is Britain -- history, scenery, even church. I didn't become Episcopalian until I was 19, but I think the seeds were sown somewhere around May 1953 in Westminster Abbey.

Through the years I have been a quasi royals-watcher. There was no access to the internet through most of those years, and the only bits I could pick up were what appeared in the media available, namely television reports, popular books, newspaper and magazine articles. At first it was a chance to peer into the lives of the rich and privileged, then it grew into seeing their work and changes in their lives. Through it all, there was an often-serious figure of a lady, dressed and hatted in a manner Mama would have recognized as the way a proper lady would dress for occasions such as going to church or making a visit that was a more than running next door to borrow a cup of sugar. And then there was the smile that seemed to burst forth like sunshine after a shower and light up the whole place.

This past weekend I watched again as the lady I had watched for years celebrated sixty years on the throne. I marvelled that she and her husband of so many years, Prince Philip, could stand for over three hours in cold, damp weather on a barge in the Thames, watching hundreds and hundreds of boats of various sizes and uses went past, blowing their horns and being cheered by the crowds. And both of them seemed as if they were enjoying it tremendously. The grin on Prince Philip's face was priceless, and, I am sure, as engaging and enjoyable to HM as it was to anyone seeing him in an element so close to the life work he had given up so many years ago to be consort and chief supporter of the Queen. I missed the Service of Thanksgiving from St. Paul's, unfortunately, as I would have loved to have seen it, but I did get to see some of the later events. After four rather grueling days, and despite the illness and absence of her life partner by her side, HM looked fresh and game for all the activities of the day. Her smiles from the balcony as she waved to the crowds gathered outside the gates of the palace and extending down the Mall, the cheers of the guards, the flyover of the planes, were wide, genuine and absolutely stunning. She was enjoying herself, and we got to enjoy it with her.

One thing I have always admired about the Queen was her sense of duty, as hard as it has undoubtedly been much of the time. I think she would have been happy as a Navy wife, albeit probably one with a few more prerogatives than most Navy wives have, or perhaps as a breeder of fine thoroughbreds and championship dogs. Maybe she would have been happier as Mrs. Mountbatten, getting hubby off to work and the children off to school, but then, maybe not. She was brought up in a household where love was present but so was duty. You don't feel like going to this or that event, this or that reception, this or that orphanage, train-station opening, plaque unveiling?  Tough. It's your job, do it whether you want to or not; it is your duty. Feet hurt, back sore, didn't sleep well last night? Suck it up, and smile for the people whose feet also hurt, backs were sore and who didn't sleep well 9if at all) last night because they have been standing and waiting for hours for a glimpse of you, much less a smile, a wave, or an acknowledgement that they were there. HM has done that, many more times than perhaps even she would want to count, but she did them, probably because it was expected of her, but perhaps because she found pleasure in giving happiness to others just by being close enough to her for each of them to be able to say forever after, "I was there the afternoon the Queen came to...." 

Duty has become a dirty word. Dogs "do their duty" on the lawn and it's our "duty" to clean it up. Duty is another word for being on the job, ready and able to do whatever is asked. Looking at the working world in which I live, duty is what propels me out the door to a place I don't always want to be, doing things I don't really enjoy but doing it anyway because it is expected of me (and it provides a paycheck). I look at the working world so different from the one in which I served my early working life, places where you were expected to be at your desk or station at specified times, doing specified tasks and not reading a novel, writing letters or notes to your mother, best friend or partner, taking or making personal calls, or just staring into space. If there was no immediate task to do, you were to find one, and find it fast. Look busy, even if you had to fudge just a tiny bit to make it appear that you actually were busy. We felt fortunate to have jobs, not that we were entitled to them. I imagine HM has the same ethic -- she has a job, a very circumscribed job, and even when she is off public duty, she is still busy and not just sitting around eating bonbons, watching television or polishing her nails. She may be Queen, but her schedules and daily routines are usually set by others who manage her events, appointments and life in general. Still, she represents an ethic that seems to be missing in a lot of areas and among a lot of workers today. She shows up, does her job conscientiously and thoroughly, enjoys it as much as she can while ensuring that others enjoy it even more than perhaps she does, and then goes on to the next thing. Even at 86, that sense of duty reflects the statement made when she was a young woman of 21, "I declare before you all that my whole life be it long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong." She hasn't always had the total support of her people, grumbling about her allowances, the palaces and lifestyle, the state of her family's marital woes and indiscretions,  over the years she has carried on, done her duty to the best of her ability and earned the support for which she asked in that same statement, not only in her own country but around the world. This weekend, in England and around the world, the people have shown their appreciation of that sense of duty.

I'm more an anglophile than I ever was. I don't cry easily but my eyes do get misty when I hear "Land of Hope and Glory" or "Jerusalem,"  and most of all when I hear a tune familiar to me as a patriotic song about the country but which, in the rest of the world, is pretty recognizable as a national anthem that prays God's blessing on a singular, dedicated, dutiful lady upon whose shoulders, constitutional monarchy or no, rests a lot of weight. Her head is unbowed, her back unbent, her bearing regal yet somehow and at the same time resembling a much-loved grandmother. We see her public persona, only guess at her private one, but we recognize her particular and very special gifts, her deep and evident faith, and the humanity she shares with every one of us, high-born or low. I also wonder what she thinks and feels every time she hears that national anthem. God's reaction to her is, I have absolutely no doubt, summed up in Jesus' words from Matthew, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

It is her sense of duty, however, that inspires me to get on with things I might not want to do but must do anyway. I just wish I could do it one tenth as gracefully, in every sense of that word, as she does.  Looking to her example gives me the impetus to try, anyway. For that, I thank her most sincerely.

God save the Queen! Amen!

No comments:

Post a Comment