How often have we heard the phrase ‘with all due respect’? Sometimes it’s just before the speaker disrespects the listener, and recently we have been inundated with the word from government guidance, mainstream and social media.
A time of mourning
The death of HM Queen Elizabeth has triggered a period of national mourning during which we have witnessed ceremonial events together with flags flown at half-mast, floral tributes and books of condolences, all of which are formal markers of respect. Across the UK, many acts of remembrance have taken place and I must admit I wondered how it could work to mourn one monarch whilst proclaiming another, especially for the family at the heart of it.
The death of a monarch or any public figure with whom we can relate can lead us to reflect on our losses, creating empathy for the family in the public gaze. Yet how many of us could cope with such scrutiny when we are at our most vulnerable? Might we hope that this period of reflection will enable people to mourn their loss, especially those families affected during the pandemic? I reflected on my mother’s death some 40 years ago, and a friend told me how she discussed her late husband with her sons when watching the Queen’s funeral.
The right time and place
Of course, not everyone supports a monarchy, and I have read commentary passionate about its abolition, citing well-versed arguments. However, in the absence of context, other remarks seem opportunistic attempts to display a level of hatred that reflects poorly on the writer, not least for their timing alone. We have also seen protests (often closed down by the people nearby), with protesters being moved by the police, possibly even for their own safety. That said, many want a part in this period of history, whether they support a monarchy or not, and there is a clear desire to acknowledge the 70-year commitment of a diligent individual.
For me, apart from the historical significance of the events unfolding, the most endearing elements have been the personal stories from security personnel and community representatives who have experienced the relative normality of a monarch serving sandwiches, doing the washing up or telling walkers that she had a holiday home in the area. These events and circumstances rarely reach the media. Yet they are treasured moments for those who directly experience them and give us a unique insight into the late Queen’s character.
Respect from a divided community
I have also appreciated the recognition of the public gestures made by the late Queen to further peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland where I live and I can’t help but wonder how much she did behind the scenes to nudge those in office to make more and better progress.
I was brought up in the protestant/unionist tradition and ‘required’ to attend the local presbyterian church until I was sixteen. Loyalty to the crown was a given, but so was respect for the tradition of our neighbours, demonstrated when my mother, who spoke with the ‘hamely tongue’ of an Ulster Scot, insisted we stood for the Republic of Ireland’s national anthem when we holidayed there.
My father was a police officer educated in Dublin, where he learned to speak Irish; subsequently he travelled there to compete in vintage motorcycle rallies until he was taken aside and informed that ‘we know who you are.’ He explained with typical humour that they didn’t want him to win all the trophies! Nevertheless, his friendship circle crossed many of the divisions in our society, and we were visited in our East Belfast home by motorcycle enthusiasts from around the province seeking parts or advice on finely tuning an engine.
The importance of conciliatory statements
It is, therefore, of significant importance to me to witness conciliatory statements, speeches, and gestures, in particular, by the representatives of Sinn Fein, given that my late father would have, not so long ago, been regarded as a legitimate target. Moreover, it points to a future where we can all celebrate our differences and respectfully learn more about each other’s perspectives. Nevertheless, change can be unsettling and needs to be carefully managed.
The King’s acknowledgement of the changing political scene in Northern Ireland did not go unnoticed. Who could have foreseen a former republican prisoner dressed in mourning attire conveying a message of sympathy to the new Monarch?
Crossing the road, quite literally sometimes, as the late Queen did, reaching out a hand of friendship and valuing each other’s culture has never been more critical, not just for my part of the world. Acts of reconciliation are all the more impactful when the individuals making such gestures accept the risk that some from their ‘perceived’ side may be critical. Doing so breaks new ground at these sharp edges of history, making way for hope.