Something that astonished me, but shouldn’t have, is just how divided Twitter has been over the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Elizabeth Windsor was tasked as a twenty-something with a job that required her to say or do nothing that could be misconstrued, controversial, or even interestingly human — for the rest of her life. . . .
Perhaps the most famous woman in the world, she remained a sphinx, hard to decipher, impossible to label. She was not particularly beautiful or dashing or inspiring. She said nothing surprising. She was simply the Queen.
For those who are vocally declining to mourn the queen’s passing, it is precisely because she was the queen that they object. There is no denying that England, later the UK, has committed all kinds of colonializing atrocities over the centuries, some of them in living memory. The head of state, however much a figurehead, cannot entirely divorce herself from that legacy. So not everyone was a fan.
For Catholics, I think we have a duty to ponder the many facets of her majesty’s legacy.
For many of us Americans, the British royal family is more like a lifelong fairytale-themed reality show, fed to us in increments as we stand in the checkout line at the grocery store skimming glossy headlines. How we process that ever-present drama, how we think of these familiar strangers, tells us as much about our own imagination and aspirations as it does about any far-off nobility.
If she was your queen, well, who can blame you for loving your country? Who can blame you for a spark of patriotism? There is no shame in mourning the death of your head of state, even as you are firmly aware of the variable track record of that state.
If you’ve been injured by the British Empire, either directly or through the suffering of your family in previous generations, once again: There’s no blame in feeling that. Why shouldn’t you feel it? Why shouldn’t everyone feel it? The unlawful invasion and forced takeover of someone else’s country, with all the horrific abuses that attend such endeavors, is barbaric and criminal. No one should be obliged to feel otherwise. We don’t have to play Pollyanna and be so glad for silver linings.
And what if we’re able to think all those thoughts at once? What if we’re able to recognize the inherent dignity of all human beings, even the ones who are heads of state, but also and especially the ones who have suffered at the hands of that same state?
I would say, in that case, her majesty’s final accomplishment is impressive: For a woman whose state in life entirely depended on her persistence in not being Catholic, she’s managed to embody Catholic anthropology quite neatly — a sinner in need of a Savior, one who managed to do a few things well and will require the mercy of God for the rest.
Related: Over at the ‘stack this week I’m talking about listening, especially to those who have left their faith (Catholic or otherwise). Let me encourage you to listen, sincerely and with an open heart, to those who feel differently than you about Queen Elizabeth II. It is good when we can start to understand someone else’s point of view, even a point of view markedly opposite our own.