As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed earlier this week, I noticed a tweet from @BritishMonarchy, which included a quote from a speech made by The Queen on her 21st birthday: “There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors – a noble motto, ‘I serve.’” (Sept 2, 2015).
There is something very moving about this notion, something that is easily forgotten in the fantasies so many of us have of ballgowns, tiaras, tennis courts, and royal tours. On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest-reigning British monarch, a reign I believe she would describe as a life of service. If we look at the Duchess of Cambridge as a model of grace, style, and modesty, then I think we should also look at The Queen, who quietly leads the Royal Family, tirelessly serves her country, and has provided stability to her nation for over 63 years, seven months, and two days.
Much has been said about the romantic aspects of being Royal – the priceless jewelry, fancy cars, crumbly history-laden castles – and this is the stuff of little girls’ princess fantasies and Disney movies. But the length and breadth of The Queen’s time on the throne speaks to a richer life beyond these romantic trappings: a life of service to her people, her country, and her family.
The Queen has served her people and her country through peace and conflict, through changes in political leadership and in constitutional change throughout her realm and throughout the Commonwealth. She has seen good times and bad within her family and weathered the storms personally and publicly. In the true meaning of service, The Queen performed nearly 400 engagements last year (at the age of 88!), including State visits, receptions, audiences, and other public events. Though all of this, she has managed to balance the differing needs of her people, her country, and her family.
As I read the different newspaper articles and blog posts about the upcoming celebrations planned for September 9th, I continue to wonder what The Queen is thinking about the events, as this is an achievement that is connected to loss. The very fact that she is becoming the longest-reigning British Monarchy is inextricably linked to the death of her father when she was only 25, leading to her becoming Queen and the start of her reign. It is also connected to the death of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, at the age of 81, ending the Victorian age. As a psychologist, I have I have seen with numerous clients that it is incredibly challenging to hold feelings of accomplishment with feelings of loss and grief at the same time, let alone to do so in the public sphere, such as at the opening of the new Borders railway line in Scotland, where we shall see The Queen on this coming September 9th.
I hope The Queen can find time to reflect on the meaning of this day for herself, and I thank her for the opportunity to reflect upon what a life of service can look like – beyond the trappings of royalty.
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