I was a child when Elizabeth became Queen. I remember coronation day because the street where I lived went on a trip to the seaside to celebrate. I remember too seeing her when she did a tour of Britain after her coronation, and I have met her a couple of times. For 70 years she has been Head of State and for some people she was a constant and a symbol of unity. Not everyone agreed with monarchy though. Scotland has often had a mixed relationship with the monarchy even when there is a public appreciation of her personal commitment and devotion to duty. This is not helped by the fact that in all the news bulletins and statements of condolences from public bodies and charities have spoken of Queen Elizabeth II. But she was only Queen Elizabeth II of England. She is the first Queen in Scotland to be called Elizabeth and the first in the United Kingdom. She has been called Queen Elizabeth II of the nation, but Britain is made up of 3 nations and the United Kingdom of 4.
However, no-one can doubt the Queen’s personal faith which she professed openly; her great sense and devotion to duty; her fidelity to her vocation. To be Queen was hers to do and she embraced it and was faithful to it. Mary Oliver has a poem When Death Comes and she ends it by saying:
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Could all of us not echo those words? Death is inevitable and all of us must face it. Do we not want to do so having lived life to the full, having embraced the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful, having grown in human kindness and compassion, having contributed to the future good of humanity?
Queen Elizabeth lived her life well in the glare of publicity, but many people live their life well within their own sphere of influence. It so happened that this summer four great women whom I have had the privilege to know also died. All of them were women of faith, committed to the work of justice and peace. Sally Beaumont was involved in racial justice and gave accommodation to over 20 refugees in her own home. Maureen Reid served young women in the Guide movement and was a Chief Commissioner for the movement in Scotland. She was a Street Pastor, going out on patrol in Glasgow’s West End from 10.00 pm to 2am on Friday and Saturday nights to help and support young people and anyone in difficulty. Cathy McCormick was a campaigner for justice particularly against the dampness in Glasgow’s housing stock which was causing her son to become ill. She talked at demonstrations and campaigned for solar-powered housing. She was invited to the Houses of Parliament to discuss the link between poor housing and health as well as the United Nations. The fourth great woman was Sr Ellen Gielty, a member of my own religious community. Ellen worked in Nigeria before her long years in teacher training in Glasgow. She was also the Superior General of my community which meant travelling the world, caring for the sisters, helping our community face the challenges of a changing world in the countries in which we all lived.
All these great women, including Queen Elizabeth, were conditioned, and limited by the circumstances into which they were born. Within those constraints they lived well and did what was theirs to do. They responded to the opportunities to do the good that came their way with fidelity and dedication. Who know what happens after death? But one thing, I think, we can be sure of is that, like ripples on a pond, their influence will live on. Their very act of living and being has made the world a better place and can be a source of comfort and strength to those of us who have not yet passed through death’s door. May they rest in peace and their memory be a blessing for us all.