The death of Queen Elizabeth II last week sparked an outpouring of global tributes and social media messages that mourned her passing.
The Queen’s graceful demeanor endeared her to millions ever since she assumed the throne in 1952 at the young age of 25. Throughout her 70-year reign, she emerged as a fearless monarch and a public servant, who served her people with devotion and dedication.
As the world will continue to honor her majesty in the days ahead, here are three life lessons that we can each draw from the Queen’s exemplary life and legacy:
1. An Unchanging Personage In An Ever-Changing World
When Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York was born in 1926, nazism was rearing its evil head, communism was controlling a vast part of our world, and ruthless dictators were murdering many millions of people.
In the following seven decades, the Queen met with 13 US presidents, she held audiences with 15 British prime ministers, and she was a first-row witness to some of our history’s most defining events – from the Second World War to countless terrorist attacks, from drastic revolutions in the world of music and art to the launch of the World Wide Web, from groundbreaking technological innovations to medical inventions that transformed the landscape of humanity forever.
Yet, in spite of these many waves of tumult and change, the Queen’s graceful persona, her integrity, sense of duty, and her steadfast adherence to an exemplary code of ethics and morals, remained unchanged. For the queen understood that not every change is an improvement; Not every modern idea is virtuous; Not every new initiative is progress in the right direction.
And by doing so, the Queen demonstrated to us all that some things should never change. Such as our responsibility to serve others, and engage in acts of goodness and kindness. Or, our duty to exercise self-control. Or, our calling to anchor ourselves in a set code of moral ethics and Divine values.
2. Royalty Is Achieved By Doing; Not Just By Being
Queen Elizabeth II was born into one of the longest-reigning families in human history. She was the 61st Monarch of England, and the 32nd great-granddaughter of England’s first monarch, King Alfred the Great.
Yet the Queen did not just inherit her crown. She also earned it with her daily acts of service for over seventy years. Consequently, she captured the hearts of her people who were proud to call her “our queen.”
The same applies to each of us. While some may have noble titles before their names, we are all born royal. In the words of the Bible: “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). But it is not enough to be born royal. We must earn our royalty too with everyday deeds of goodness and actions of kindness.
Some may be content with who they are, without feeling a need to serve and help people in need. Others may indulge in hours of meditation and self-reflection. But at the end of the day, it is a person’s actions that will mold his life and make him earn his royalty. And a generous act will reverberate in the world infinitely more than a feeling, a thought, and even a word.
As Victor Hugo, the 19th Century French poet once wrote: “Our acts make or mar us – we are the children of our own deeds.”
3. How Death Can Teach Us How To Live
The thought struck me, once again, as I read many of the glorious eulogies that were published this week on the Queen, including the special prayer in her remembrance issued by England’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Efraim Mirvis.
But dare I ask: What ever happened to the words of gossip on the Queen that were published by many news outlets over the years, without reservation? Did the queen suddenly become a saint once she left this world? And in general, why do we seldom hear any negative remarks about people who die?
The reason, I believe, is telling. No; people do not change when they die. Rather, we change, and consequently, our perspective on the deceased changes too.
During a person’s lifetime, we sometimes get lost in the details of life and we become easily offended because of insignificant trivialities. In my Rabbinic capacity, I am, at times, deeply astounded by how people sever ties and end friendships because of such banal stupidities. But when death strikes, a greater, more wholesome picture, emerges. We then begin to see, albeit a little too late, the bright side of the person, and the beautiful life he or she led.
So, here’s the question: Do people need to die in order for us to appreciate them? Do we need to lose a loved one before we can truly find him or her?
Let us not wait for death to direct our attention to the goodness in our relatives and friends. Let us tell them that we love them, without delay. And let us show them, with words and actions, that we appreciate them, today and every day.