Oniontown Pastoral: God Rest the Queen—and Our Weary World
We knew it was coming. Queen Elizabeth II was 96. Her obituary should not read, “Her Majesty died unexpectedly at Balmoral Castle.” No, Elizabeth had a great run. That she inched toward 100 and was conversant, ambulatory and taking nourishment up to the end ought to salve the world’s grief, if not her family’s.
I’ve never given Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor much thought, actually. Embarrassing as it is to confess, she always struck me as so thick with façade as to seem vacuous. Clearly I was wrong and ungenerous as well in writing off King Charles III as a buffoon. But events have a way of enlightening an unkind spirit and confronting harsh misconceptions. So it was that I found myself watering up during coverage of Elizabeth’s death. As ever, no tear running down my cheek escapes interrogation. Why was the passing of a woman with a cherubic face and a wardrobe my mother would have called “loud” choking me up?
I’m no fan of a monarchy or any other institutional colossus that hoards wealth on a planet where continents of children wear not crowns, but distended bellies. And like normal human beings, my heart swells at genuine patriotism and pageantry. Can any nation beat the Brits at “Pomp and Circumstance”? At the same time, excessive fanfare is falderal.
As it happens, though, my ambivalence toward kings, queens, princes, princesses, processions and tawdry palace intrigue overlooked a priceless quality possessed by the late Queen: dignity. To my American ears, admittedly, the British accent in itself is edifying. Deportment is also vital, manners and restraint, too.
Queen Elizabeth had a public presence that was so refreshingly, well, dignified. Of course, those teeth shining with every smile chomped down behind closed doors, where her offsprings’ excesses were taken by the scruff. Buckingham Palace must have order. Charles, meanwhile, has conducted himself with authentic, if somewhat worn, stoicism in his hour of mourning. Has His Highness shamelessly used royal privilege to enrich himself? Indeed, but if we’re going to sort out public figures on this basis, we best get busy on the threshing floor.
My point is, in an era gone mad with contradictions, falsehoods, deceptions, dalliances, dismemberment and Faustian bargains, we can learn from Queen Elizabeth’s way of addressing and interacting with her subjects—an unsavory but accurate term. Noblesse oblige is benevolent at its best.
So, yes, I teared up listening to a young Elizabeth say to the Commonwealth, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
My report would be lacking, however, if I didn’t confess that my eyes are leaking over more than an elderly monarch’s passing. I’m also world-weary, fatigued along with everyone else. The Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor experienced “compassion fatigue” as an Episcopal parish priest, which lead her to accept an endowed chair in religion at Piedmont College in 1997. A celebrated preacher still, she published a memoir, Leaving Church, in 2006, describing at length how tiring it is to care deeply and intensely for parishioners. (Thankfully, I’m not suffering in this way as a pastor.)
Then there’s “decision fatigue,” a malady I stumbled upon over 10 years ago, long before COVID-19 put a strain on bandwidths one and all. The American Medical Association website now defines this weariness in terms that will surprise nobody: “A state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.” The condition can especially hamper those in poverty, as they have to fret over every last cent, but I’ll wager everybody has been deflated by choices that need to be made in times of stress.
And now we have “hope fatigue,” so named by Brooklyn psychotherapist Leslie Alterman as the burden of anybody paying attention to the societal and medical landmines buried under today’s every footfall. Among her patients, “There’s an unspoken recognition that the chaos we are experiencing might be with us for a long time.” For me, the chaos is conjured by those who engage in the impolite, cruel, brutal, deceitful, downright wicked behavior that scars our day. Attorney Joseph Welsh’s 1954 question of renown to Senator Joseph McCarthy is laughably naïve in 2022: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Any response is sure to include an expletive.
Now I’m humming “God Save the Queen.” For all of royalty’s folly, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor knew how to behave herself—thereby sparing a world of already languishing innocent bystanders the ordeal of indecent nonsense. Neither Great Britain nor any other nation can spare her example. Now she is gone. Her repose is worth a few tears.