The Death of the Queen, and the End of Eras
MindLetter post written by Dr Kitty Wheater.
Warm greetings to you on this damp and chill day.
A reminder that the Mindfulness Lunchtime Drop-ins begin again on Tuesday next week (13th) - online on Tuesdays, in-person in the Chaplaincy Centre on Fridays. I'm very much looking forward to seeing you again after the long summer break - and if you're coming for the first time, you will be more than welcome.
The Death of the Queen, and the End of Eras
The BBC, last night, was a stream of thinking and talking, opinions and stories. My newspapers this morning spilled over with royal words and pictures. Twitter is a blur. All around, when something big happens – like the death of a Queen, who served in public life for much of the span of a century; who my grandmother grew up with; whose face has imprinted the idea of the British nation for many decades – there is the impulse to talk, discuss, document and commentate. We want to make sense of things, reach out to others, read what someone else has had to say.
This is how we respond to the end of an era. The shifts of history take place so deeply, in such a silent, big-spaced realm, that we seek the ordinariness of each other, the things that are material and dynamic and lively, in order to re-place ourselves in a version of time that feels liveable. We woke up this morning; there are road closures in central Edinburgh. There is a new King; or we don’t care that there is a new King; or we have opinions about what kind of King he will be. These are happenings and thoughts and perspectives we can hang onto. Their quotidian buzz and chatter in sight and mind are of the reliably ephemeral time of the human day-to-day.
But last night, I turned off the BBC and let the silence settle. In the death of the Queen there are things that have come to an end in deep time, both personal and societal, the layers of ourselves and each other underneath the day’s front page or the pundit’s forecast.
Ourselves: my grandmother, a few years younger than Elizabeth II, was a small child in London during the Blitz. As she grew up, her life kept pace with Elizabeth’s: marriage, children, her own work in public service as a counsellor in London. Throughout her life, she felt a quiet affinity with the woman in the Palace her own age, an affinity that that generation often did. My generation is different; my resonances are my own; but this matters less to me than the fact that my beloved grandmother, who died too soon, and long before her compatriot, grew up alongside and loved the Queen. Upon the death of Elizabeth II, I feel that something else, too, has ended. I am remembering my grandmother. Maybe you are remembering someone you loved.
Each other: there is a particular witnessing to our world that ends here. For seventy years from 1952 to 2022, the Queen read the Red Box every day; she saw post-war austerity, the birth of the modern women’s movement, the end of the British Empire, and the advent of the internet; she dug allotments in Windsor Castle during World War II, and ate marmalade sandwiches with CGI Paddington in 2022. Every generation is a historical tidal wave of humans who live, breathe, make sense of their world and the world around them, and pursue their notion of the good; every generation of the royal family is another wave emerging from the ocean that lies between state, people, and ceremony. As each wave ebbs, we discover afresh that something has passed, and we may not know what is to come.
This is simply how life is, and so we talk about it, think, read, and talk and think some more. Or maybe we turn off the BBC, and sit in the twilight in the silence of the new era. We feel the shifts in the deep terrain beneath us, and allow whatever is moving through to make its way into clear sight.
There are many ways to mark the death of a queen, or a shift in deep time. Maybe this is one of them: as I stood at the traffic lights in central Edinburgh this morning, waiting to cross, a truck driver confused by road closures paused and sprawled across the junction to speak to the police. I thought about nipping across; perhaps my body was poised to do so; but before I did, the cars behind him began to overtake, peeling off into the lane where I would have trodden. I caught the eye of the middle-aged woman standing next to me. ‘Be careful, love,’ she said. ‘Life is very precious.’ It wasn’t in that moment, but in the one after, as I walked away up the street, that her words caught the back of my throat.
I wish you good conversations and silence, good reading and reflection, or simply the care of strangers, as we move into this weekend.