When I peeked in briefly on the coronation coverage, I didn’t expect to break down in laughter.
Not at King Charles or the ceremony, I promise. I’m enough of a theatre person to love a bit of pomp and circumstance. And His Majesty’s ears will never get a joke from me – after all, I have enough funny-looking facial features of my own.
No, the part that made me laugh came during the chit-chat by the journalists (of course). An English commentator was trying to explain the benefit of a king to his American colleagues. “There’s value,” he said, “in having a leader who is not political, who can bring the country together.”
Sorry. I can’t even write that with a straight face. And like any good laugh, it works on several levels.
First, if you’ve seen social media at all, you know that we’re perfectly capable of dividing ourselves on anything, political or otherwise. The color of a dress. The use of an apostrophe. The need for a 27th Star Wars movie.
Second, there’s a minor history of English kings who … how do I put this? … didn’t exactly unite the country. (We even remember one of them briefly each year on July 4.) Even leaving aside civil wars and revolutions, being unelected doesn’t mean you’re non-controversial. Just ask a certain group of nine Americans in black robes.
What he really meant, of course, is a leader who’s powerless. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
These days, unless you’re a member of the royal staff or the Archbishop of Canterbury, there’s not a lot a King or Queen of England can do to affect your daily life. They’re a presence. A face. A walking sense of continuity that gives some speeches and attracts a lot of tourists.
For decades, that’s had some people debating about whether the United Kingdom needs a king at all. That’s a fair question – strictly speaking, nobody needs a king, after all. But as with many things in Britain, utility is only part of the question.
Since a British monarch lacks official power – practically, if not legally – it isn’t their accomplishments that will get them remembered. It’s themselves. Those of us who loved Elizabeth, and there were many, did so not because of what she did but because of who she was or seemed to be.
She earned respect. Not just because of a crown or a loyalty oath, but from her own character. And that meant her words lingered a little longer than they otherwise might have.
Nobody needs a monarch – but everybody needs someone who can speak to them frankly, without any ability to coerce. That’s the sign of a good neighbor, whether they wear a crown or a Broncos hat. (And if you just tried to picture QE2 in a Broncos hat, I’m terribly, terribly sorry.)
In that regard, we could all stand to give each other the royal treatment.
So I wish the best to Charles Philip Arthur George Paddington Skywalker. (Hey, I only promised not to joke about his ears.) At best, he’s in a position to be a considerate voice in often-difficult times. At worst, there’s not a lot he can do to hurt anything.
Either way, here’s to all the other considerate voices that crown our own lives. American or Briton, royalist or egalitarian, we all need that.
And that’s no laughing matter.