With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the world has lost one of the few remaining members of the “Greatest Generation,” as journalist Tom Brokaw called them. People who were born between 1900 through the 1920s, who lived through the Great Depression, and many who fought during World War II. They were a generation that understood sacrifice and honor; their word was their bond, and they were as interested in the wellbeing of others as much, and sometimes more than their own.
Queen Elizabeth II was a member of this generation, and she had a big hand in shaping our world.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor came to power in a very different world from the one she died in, but for seven decades, the world could count on her as a resilient constant. Yes, she had her missteps—her tardy response to Diana’s death and what she called her “annus horribilis”— but overall, they haven’t detracted from the 96 years this amazing woman loved and served in the eye of public scrutiny.
I can’t imagine how she must have felt, becoming queen at 25 years old, and soon after, meeting the formidable British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. By all accounts, they developed a lifelong friendship, and he tutored her on the complexities of the constitutional monarchy, politics, and the law. He helped shape her into the wise and respected monarch she became.
In a prayer service, yesterday, at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Bishop of London said “During her coronation almost 70 years ago, the young queen was anointed before God with sesame and olive oil, containing orange flowers, roses, jasmine, cinnamon, and musk, and her life was set apart for the service of others. A life in the service of others is a rare jewel; a jewel her Majesty wore as her crown. Her life in service was not something she could pick up and put down again. It was deeply embedded in her understanding of herself.”
How many of us could have sacrificed so much?
Like a great many countries, Great Britain has been increasingly divided by political upheaval and a changing roster of prime ministers, but through it all, the Queen continued to be a unifying figure. Regardless of how the British people feel about continuing the monarchy, they have an overwhelming admiration for Elizabeth the woman. Queen Elizabeth II was the human and personal embodiment of the people and the pride in the traditions of Great Britain.
At the end of Saint Paul’s prayer service, the congregation sang the British National Anthem with the noticeable change of one word: God Save the King. This patriotic song dates back to 1745 and became the National Anthem at the beginning of the 19th century. I can’t imagine the stalwart British people taking a knee and refusing to sing it. Even among great divides, they still revere patriotism and respect for their country and their leaders, and sadly, there is so little of that left in the world.
After 9/11, Queen Elizabeth sent a letter to the American people that said, “I’m with you in your grief. That is the price of love.” I know many of us around the world share in her country and her family’s grief at the loss of this amazing woman.