Alone in a pew, all in black, she could have been anybody.
Granted, in all her long life, Queen Elizabeth II has never gotten to be just “anybody.” That’s part of the package of being British royalty: people may adore you, detest you, gossip about you, or even accuse you of being shape-shifting aliens from another planet … but they will never, ever completely ignore you.
But for that one moment at Prince Philip’s funeral, in that one image circulated around the world, none of it seemed to matter. For that brief moment, the pomp and circumstance subsided into a figure anyone could know. A small woman, long married, newly widowed, the social distancing around her echoing the empty place in her heart and her life.
It could have been any of us. It has been some of us. Painfully familiar, in a world where so much has changed.
I’m not a close royal-watcher. (That was my English grandma Elsie.) I didn’t sit to watch every moment. But I did notice how even online, where the brash and the inappropriate can so easily intrude, the feel at that moment was overwhelmingly … well, kind.
I was relieved to see it.
Every once in a while, I wonder if we’ve forgotten how.
I’m not the only one. A friend sent me a message this week, dismayed at what her adult daughter had been seeing in the not-quite-post-pandemic world. As most of you know, it’s been a little like Rip Van Winkle as more and more people come out of their isolated state and back into a more engaged world. But like sleepy ol’ Rip, some of them didn’t seem to recognize immediately that the world had changed from what they knew, or were too impatient to care.
Maybe you’ve seen what she saw. The folks that expect restaurant service to be just as seamless as before, despite the crowds and precautions. Or perhaps the ones that cut in the self-service grocery lines, outflanking the ones waiting on their “distance dots.” Or other bits where the social gears are sticking instead of clicking.
I know. It’s not easy. Especially in the transition period we’re in, where the light keeps getting closer but at the speed of an inchworm. Many of us have had our shots, many more are on the verge, and we want to be D-O-N-E with this whole business. Back to business as usual.
And as we emerge, it feels more like a report from Mr. Spock instead: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” Each day, we get small reminders that it’s not going to be completely as it was. Maybe it never truly is … “normal,” after all, is a thing of today, always in motion, redefined by each generation.
But as so much changes, it’s vital that kindness remains.
if any lesson comes out of the pandemic, it has to be that. We’ve seen pain and disruption, adjustment and transformation. We’ve experienced brutal ugliness, heart-stirring courage, and even beauty finding its way out of isolation and into the light. And where we’ve made our best moments, we’ve made them for each other.
Friends. Neighbors. Strangers united by nothing but a desire to help. That hasn’t been all of us, but it hasn’t been none of us, either. At the darkest, there have been hearts finding ways to help, even when the hands had to stay six feet apart.
That’s the old truth that our new world has to remember. That it starts with kindness. With caring. With seeing other people as humans that matter, that we need and are needed by.
Like that little old lady in the pew, no one is just “anybody.”
And that has a certain majesty all its own.