A Truly Royal Life

The death of Queen Elizabeth II is a moment for the world to mark the end of a well-lived life and the message of hope it conveys.

To be thankful for her life is not at all justifying the injustice perpetrated by the British Empire before and during her reign.

It is, rather, an acknowledgement that individuals of strong moral character can do good in an imperfect political system and an imperfect world.

Often, too often, in fact, leaders do not rise above the worst in politics and government, but succumb to it and make both worse during their time in office.

Queen Elizabeth did not do that. She did so much better, and that is why there is universal sadness over her passing. A light has been extinguished.

Death comes to us all, sometimes out of season and in all instances leaving behind those who wish it had not come at all. The older you get, the more you think about your own life and your own death, but from the attitude of those who have gone before us, a life well lived helps one to face its end.

The prospect of death can be a catalyst for seeing just how short life is and why living it well is so important. I think about that a lot these days because of the constant chaos and bitter divisions driving our national life.

I wonder why people who are angry about the state of affairs find it difficult to calm down and get some perspective on things. Nothing is ever just the way we see it or think it is.

Life is too ambiguous to be simple, which is why unreasoned and sometimes thoughtless responses make matters worse rather than better. We all know that the angrier we become, the less effective we also become in solving a problem we are angry about.

That is common sense wisdom born of living, but in today’s America too many people are controlled by their anger rather than controlling it. Some of the texts and tapes of phone threats public figures have received shows how serious this problem is.

It’s also a sad way to live. People who are angry and live out of it have to miserable. There is no way to be happy when anger is eating you up.

That’s why evangelical Christians are such an enigma. Jesus once said that his teachings were intended to bring us the kind of joy he had, and if we listened to him our lives would feel whole and complete (John 15:11).

If evangelicals are joyful people, no one knows it because they have earned the reputation of being judgmental and self-righteous, full of moral outrage rather than joy.

The reason they seem angry is because that is how Moral outrage affects people. A moral crusader is someone who is sure he or she knows how other people should live and is determined to force them to do so by any means possible. Such a crusader is the epitome of Jesus exposing the human tendency to see the speck in someone else’s eye while missing the plank in our own.

When applied to real life, his words warn us that moral blindness leads to moral crusades steeped in judgmentalism, steeped in self-righteousness.

There cannot be any happiness or joy for people living that way, and when I think of how short life is, I wonder why anyone would choose to.

None of us knows whether we have another minute, another hour, another day, another week, month, or year to live. We only know we have an existential moment.

Queen Elizabeth herself said as much: “Each day is a new beginning, I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”

Doing that doesn’t just happen. It takes attending to important things while resisting the temptation to allow anger and grievance and bitterness to fill our minds and poison our hearts.

When you have already lived longer than you know you will live, as is true for me, trying to do what is right, taking the long view and giving the best in all that the day brings, ultimately trusting the outcome to God, seems to be the key to having real joy in the living of these days.

So, farewell to a great woman, a Queen who never let being Britain’s reigning Monarch go to her head. Her pledge was to serve the people she represented and she did so with grace and humility that enabled her to maintain tradition while bringing change that allowed her to keep up with the times.

A life well-lived is an example for all of us, even those of us not British. Because of how she lived, her death is now an occasion to remember that even a long life is too short to waste.

The day we grasp that truth we will cease to focus on things of monumental insignificance and, instead, do our best in attending to the things that truly matter.