I'm bemused by the scenes from Westminster today. People are queuing for 24 hours to see a wooden box. OK, it's a fancy box surrounded by guards in red coats that contains the body of the late Queen Elizabeth II, but it's still a box.
I know Brits will look for any excuse to wait uncomplainingly in a line (preferably in drizzle) but this seems a bit ridiculous. Still, I have Facebook friends who should know better who are posting 'thumbs up' pictures from the embankment - 17 hours down, just three to go. Then finally they are posing grainy videos of the catafalque "Lying in State.". I assume using this fancy term hides the fact they are essentially queuing for 24 hours to see a box.
No disrespect to my friends or David Beckham, but there are surely better ways to spend 24 hours of your life. I get twitchy if I have to queue for more than 40 minutes for a restaurant reservation. The two hours I waited with my kid to see Lame Santa at Busch Gardens felt like pure purgatory. Then there was another hour or so for Smelly and Not Worthwhile Penguins.
I don't mean to belittle the Queen of England by such comparisons. When I received a text alert about HRH's death last week I was as shocked as anyone. The Queen has always been part of my life. I won my elementary school class crown-making competition during the Silver Jubilee in 1977. My fellow employees sensed my shock. Teachers showed up unannounced in my room from the far-flung corners of the building. "Are you OK, Macaulay? Do you need to sit down? Do you need six weeks off?" It was the usual tongue-in-cheek kind of humor that felt more British than American. I was glad to see my influence was wearing off ... just don't use the c word.
Of course, in the days after the Queen's death, writers for the New York Times and some other publications started to use the c word, presumably so as they could be savaged as 'woke' by the Daily Mail. Why were we celebrating a colonialist? Why was America lowering flags for a colonial oppressor?
All of this was a tad unfair on the monarch who inherited the last vestiges of the British empire and helped keep together the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, the death of the Queen certainly got me thinking. When we grew up in the United Kingdom, we were never taught about the empire. Indeed, older people would talk in nostalgic terms of the days when half the globe was colored pink. I had to do my own research to learn that the British set up the first concentration camps during the Boer War and the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s led to thousands of deaths.
So the British empire was brutal. That's not news. Empires, by their nature, involve subjugation. Empires involve invasions that are contrary to western norms and international law and are reserved for villains such as Vladimir Putin today. The sun set on the British empire and Americans have never invades anywhere of late (if you discount Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq etc.) It never made much sense for a country the size of Britain to control half the world anyhow. The remnants remain in the form of the Commonwealth - an entity that the Queen worked hard to keep together. I'm not sure how well the Commonwealth will fare under King Charles III. I'm not sure I really care. If I lived in Canada or Australia I wouldn't see why I should have a distant monarch's head on my money either.
I'm not sure if the British love of queuing even exported well. It never made it to the USA. We've all been at Wawa in the morning, clutching a coffee and potentially late for work. One slot to go, and then suddenly the guy in front of us is humming and hawing and ordering lottery tickets and struggling to get out his credit card. We've all felt that scream rising inside. Of course, if you are British like me you keep it down.
Could I suppress that scream until I got into Westminster Hall? I'll never know. But the experience would be bizarre. I spent a few years of my life walking through Westminster Hall every day. I attended obscure select committee meetings in the anterooms here where politicians talked in depth about important matters of the day such as whether badgers should be gassed. British history is strange, though. The same place that is now honoring a late monarch also put one to death. In 1649, Charles 1 was dragged here at the end of the Civil War. He was condemned to death and beheaded nearby at Whitehall. This disturbing image made me realize there are worse things in the world than queuing. But I'm still concerned with a niggling question about what all these people do if they need to use the bathroom and are they faced with the unspeakable horrors of Portaloos? All of which makes me sound just a Brit American, I realize.