In Memoriam Reginae

What the Queen meant to me

“Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst of it is that he’s sometimes suddenly mortal ― there’s the rub!”

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

On Tuesday, she is still at work, as she had been for 70 years, swearing in a new Prime Minister. On Thursday, she is gone. It is, I guess, the good, and ― let’s be honest ― the lucky way to go. Not everyone has this good fortune. But it is fitting for Her Late Majesty. Yes, she had it good, for the most part. Yes, she was fortunate, as our republican friends have always reminded us. But she took advantage of her good luck to serve, and made sure that her good fortune was ours too.

Much has already been said, and more will be, and it is difficult to add to it without being banal, ridiculous, or both. All the more difficult because the Queen’s death has affected me more than I would have imagined. As we know, the feeling that the time is out of joint does not make for the clearest thinking.

I did want to bring up something that is mentioned less than the really obvious (and of course true and important) things like the late Queen’s dedication and dignity: her levity. Not every Serious Person would have gone along with the James Bond stunts for the London Olympic Games opening ceremony, or the video of her having tea with Paddington Bear for her Diamond Jubilee. But just as a person truly confident of his or her strength can afford to show weakness from time to time, the Queen was secure enough in her dignity not to stand on it at all times. I’m not sure how many others could, let alone would, have pulled it off.

Let me also mention two personal memories of the Queen, which I hope capture some of what she was to me and to many others.

First, her last visit to Canada, in 2010. I was lucky enough to be in Ottawa for Canada Day ― it was my clerkship year. It was a bright and sunny day, a cheerful occasion, and good times seemed to be had by everyone around.

Canada Day, 2010. The Queen is getting out of the limousine to take place in the carriage that will carry her to Parliament.

And second, her “We will meet again” address in the darkest days of the first covid lockdown, which I watched in New Zealand. Nothing bright and cheerful about it; good times were gone and unsure of returning.

April 2020. The Queen addresses the Commonwealth during the first pandemic lockdown.

This is how it was: whichever of her Realms I was in, she had a wave for us in a time of celebration and a word of comfort in a time of anxiety. She seems to have had a preternatural talent for getting both, and every other public word or gesture, exactly right. More luck, perhaps. But it was our luck more than hers. We have had it good, and we must somehow see to it that we make as much of our good fortune as she did of hers.

Farewell, Your Majesty. And long live the King!

Author: Leonid Sirota

Law nerd. I teach public law at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom. I studied law at McGill, clerked at the Federal Court of Canada, and did graduate work at the NYU School of Law. I then taught in New Zealand before taking up my current position at Reading.

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