Yesterday Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest at the conclusion of an unparalleled display of pageantry, the likes of which may never, ever be seen again. To say that her people did her proud would be a gross understatement. They came out in the hundreds of thousands to say thank you, to thank her for her grace, her dignity, and her 70 years of unstinting service. And they came out to witness a significant moment in history, to be part of saying goodbye to a monarch who saw their country and the world through profound changes.
But I don’t want to talk about Queen Elizabeth and her legacy, at least not per se. I don’t want to go over the continuing impact of colonization in many countries, including my own. I don’t want to consider the justification for continuing a monarchy which, despite its now non-political role, oversees an extraordinary collection of wealth in the form of stately homes, vast tracts of land in its Duchies, jewels, etc. I want to talk about The Queue.
They estimate that 1,000,000 people were in London and Windsor yesterday to be part of the send-off of a beloved monarch. But aside from that, 250,000 people are estimated to have stood in lines – The Queue – for up to 24 hours – in order to have their own moment – actually a few seconds – to pay their personal respects to the Queen as she lay in State in Westminster Hall. For 4 full days, 24 hours each day, people queued to have that moment. They stood, in daylight and in darkness, for between 6 and 14 hours (24 hours was a rarity), for this privilege. At one point The Queue is said to have reached 10 miles (16 kms) in length. And what transpired, with a few minor exceptions, was what I think was the best tribute of all for a queen who devoted her life to service to others; people who were complete strangers and came from many different walks of life not only got along together, they helped each other and developed a sense of community – The Queue Community.
Celebrities like David Beckham and Sharon Osborne queued. People whose families had immigrated from commonwealth countries where their ancestors had been badly treated by their British colonizers queued. People who had voted to remain in the EU queued (according to one poll taken, 60% of people in The Queue were remainers). And they all treated each other as equals, with respect, curtesy, and mutual support. While standing in a never-ending queue for hours and hours. For some reason the situation brought out the very best in people. [I understand that there were some exceptions near the end of the 4 days, when the overnight temperatures dipping to near 0C and porta-potties being in short supply gave way to some frustrations, but these incidents appear to have been few and far between.]
So, the question I ask myself is: how do we bring out the best in our collective selves more often? It is such a rare occurrence these days. We do occasionally come together to celebrate common interests and we exhibit kindness towards our fellow human beings at those times. In Canada, that happens on Canada Day. In schools and universities it happens at graduations. According to an acquaintance who went on the Hajj many years ago, the sense of camaraderie on that long pilgrimage was extraordinary and meaningful; people (men) of all classes and nationalities were all dressed in the same white robes and everyone was treated with the same degree of warmth and respect. We can do this, but why do we do it so infrequently? Why do so many events focus on the “we”s versus the “them”s? If we would only stop and think about how to build “big tents” for non-political purposes and actually find ways to appreciate each other’s company. Surely we can find an easier way than standing on a queue for many, many hours!
As I watched The Queue in utter fascination for those few days, I couldn’t help but think that the act of so many people getting along so well during those challenging hours was the best tribute of all to Queen Elizabeth, a monarch who put service first. The act of respecting the Queen brought out the best in nearly 250,000 people. And I also thought that the somehow positive experience those people shared, with people they had never met before and would likely never meet again (except for at least one couple who has started dating!), will stay with them for their lifetime. They experienced the culture of kindness.
May we all work at bringing out the best in ourselves as often as possible.
Thank you for your lifetime of service, Queen Elizabeth.