The passing of Queen Elizabeth II came as no surprise, given her advanced years, yet it was heartbreaking to many just the same. It was puzzling, nevertheless, to friends and family that a young Gen Z American with a healthy respect for the principles of republican government should mourn her loss so deeply.
As little girls reading fairy tales, most of my generation grew up wanting to be princesses but not really understanding why. We just liked the pretty dresses and, perhaps, the idea of being cherished by a handsome prince. We certainly had no sound ideas about nobility coming to us from popular culture. It was more about entitlement. As we got older, however, reality kicked in: this is America, we don’t have royalty, and any pretty dresses or princes would have to be earned. Unfortunately, it seems some never get over that disappointment or the immature understanding of what it means to be somebody’s princess.
Even as the popular culture advanced this shallow vision of entitlement, however, there was always one person who somehow seemed to defy it, all the more surprising because technically she didn’t need to. Elizabeth always played her role with grace and dignity. I confess I didn’t know that much about the current royal family until I watched “The Crown” on Netflix. After watching and learning more about her life through my own reading of history, I came to have immense respect for her. She showed me, an American teen, that even a queen must earn respect.
Queen Elizabeth II did not demand respect by staging large publicity stunts or seeking to be a celebrity or making herself the center of attention. Rather, she spoke of duty, acted on it and maintained through many national and personal crises an aspect of dignity and grace. She always reminded me what it meant to be a good leader and a lady.
The queen stood out in a culture full of people obsessed with drawing attention to themselves. While her family was constantly in the spotlight (by choice or not) the queen always kept herself composed. While some took issue with the way the queen, throughout her life, has declined to comment on personal issues I can’t help thinking it is the epitome of noble. Oftentimes politicians and people in the media degrade themselves by making everything that ought to be personal public or, in various ways, destroying their dignity.
Despite being one of the most powerful women in the world, Queen Elizabeth II did not consider using her power to excuse bad behavior. She held herself to a higher standard, even when those she loved fell short. She did not flinch when the inevitable criticism came. She just carried on and kept her dignity intact. She understood her duty as a head of a state. She never pushed for a glamorous life.
As a young adult today, many women look past the queen and romanticize the life of Diana, instead. I don’t understand it. While I have no strong negative opinion of Diana, her tragic life is not a model of the kind of dignity to which women should aspire. Queen Elizabeth II offers a better alternative, though perhaps she was never as flashy or glamorous. She showed, by her example, what heads of state and people who have the burden of being thrust into the limelight should do. Her job was to look after what was best for the commonwealth. Not to turn her life into a perpetual season of “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” She understood her duties first, and led with reason, not emotion. That is something I have incredible respect for because, let’s face it, growing up that is not something I saw much of stateside.
The death of the queen, I’m sorry to say, truly feels like it is the death of a generation of duty, and dignity, of quiet devotion to hard work. I can only hope that I can reflect her strength in my life and that my generation will begin to reevaluate her in her passing to find what is missing in our age.