I have seen Queen Elizabeth II only twice in my life, but both were memorable and both were roughly a half-century ago.
When she was crowned in June 1953, I was living in Edinburgh, Scotland -- a young boy only three years of age. My Mom had been a Scottish war bride and because of my Dad (Canadian from Calgary) had been wounded in the war, we were permitted to take the train from Edinburgh to London to stand among the massive throng outside to see the newly crowned monarch. I recall the hours on the train, singing old war songs in a crammed coach car with hundreds of others who had just survived the Second World War. To be that young and caught up in that kind of sentiment is a staggering and memorable thing. I recall my Mom and Nana tear-filled as the importance of the moment flooded their thoughts.
I had never seen so many people in my life and when the new Queen and her husband, along with the Queen Mum and others walked out on the balcony you couldn't hear a thing -- the roar was boisterous, deliriously happy and deafening.
My uncle placed me on his shoulders and pointed out the Queen. I screamed at her and I was young and naive enough to believe that she heard me among the many thousands all trying to get her attention at the same time. That night I feel asleep in my grandmother's arms, vaguely aware that one important person would now help to shape the world into a better place.
Four or five years later I stood at the railroad crossing close to downtown Calgary awaiting the Queen's train as it approached. At the last minute the organizers suddenly realized that the bunting was hung upside down, starting with blue on the top and red on the bottom. I watched in fascination as a panicked group of citizens assisted the organizers in flipping it around just as the train whistle blew in the distance. My father hobbled around with me as we sought to do our part.
And suddenly there she was. The train had stopped right in the middle of the road and the crowd went crazy as she emerged. To this day I recall what she was wearing and how she brought tears to my parents' eyes. To our amazement, she walked down the metal stairs and approached the crowd -- right at the spot where we stood. I recall the excited feeling as she held out her hand towards me. "Well, aren't you a fine young man," she offered graciously. I can only recall blubbering about how Dad and I had help to fix the bunting and she thanked me before moving on. My mother was filled with such pride at that moment.
In many ways I wish every politician and civil servant was just like that -- gracious, understanding of their importance to the greater good, and cognizant of the fact that one slip-up on their part could lose the public trust. That is why she is still loved and respected today -- she has maintained that avid pursuit of the public good for decades, despite her great wealth and the controversy that often surrounds her.
Politics was once like that. It can be again. But only as our political overseers watch such dignity in action and decide that they will carry the traits of integrity, a sense of honour, and respect for the public into the future and stop just celebrating it as something of the past.
Of course people debate whether the monarchy is truly required, but those particular traits stir no controversy. There are not the noble traits of some bygone era but the necessary building blocks for a more civil and prosperous future for the Canadian people.
Meeting Queen Elizabeth II is not nearly as important as living out those traits she has protected and refined since her youth. I won't meet her again in the limited time we both have left, but it was enough -- her grace was seared into my memory. She was trained in such graces; we have to train ourselves. Should we do so, we just might recapture our own national sense of dignity and grace.