Thursday, December 31, 2015

I declare before you all, I dislike it when people quote that speech

You: What speech?

Me: The Queen's 21st Birthday Speech

You: Sacrilege! How can you possibly dislike a speech where a young woman declared her dedication to the nation? Have you no heart?

Okay, I have nothing against the speech itself. It is patriotic and who can argue with the sentiment? No, I dislike when other people repeat it. Especially now that the Queen is almost 90. Actions speak louder than words and since she spoke those words in 1947, she has more than proven her dedication to the point there is no question. Whatsoever. If you think you have a good reason to question it, you haven't been paying enough attention.

In recent years she has hit several milestones. In 2012 she celebrated her Diamond jubilee. In 2015 she became the longest reigning monarch in British history. In 2016, the Queen will turn 90. On that occasion we will no doubt hear this chestnut trotted out time and again by people who have only read about her in books or observed her from a distance. No doubt they have memorized the words so that when someone asks how the Queen has remained so dedicated throughout her reign they can say: "Well, in 1947 she said....'I declare before you all.."

The actual speech is much longer (835 words) but it is the following 34 words that people quote the most:

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

Good heavens! Even I'm doing it!

Yes she is dedicated. She has reiterated it a number of times over the years, most recently rededicating herself anew in 2012 during her Diamond Jubilee year. To be quite honest, I thought the last reminder to be completely unnecessary. A) Because she has proven it B) Because if you're on a roll, why jinx it?

The main reason I dislike quoting that speech is because it tends to ignore a crucial reality. The Queen is mortal and she will die. It makes no allowances for anything less than that. She is slowing down (regardless of whether people want to acknowledge it). Holding her to a speech she said at 21 is completely unrealistic in light of how old she is. Sometimes I wonder, if, for arguments sake. If the queen were to decide to retire/abdicate would people hold it against her? Mention the mere idea and you won't be allowed to complete the senten--

"It will NEVER happen! She said so herself...'I declare before you all...' and although I've never met her the very idea is an anathema to her..."

But she is getting older...if anyone deserves a break it is her?

"NO!..It will NEVER happen..."

As wonderful as it would be, the Queen cannot keep going. She has remarkable stamina for her age. Longevity is in her DNA. But the people who quote the speech at every milestone want her to keep going, regardless. As if the idea of her slowing down/taking a break (read: acknowledging her mortality) is wrong. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned and monarchs in Netherlands, Spain and Belgium abdicated because they knew their limits they were criticized as quitters. Instead of being seen as a prudent decision in light of their health or to make way for the new generation, it was seen as a negative.

Those families acknowledged reality while we maintained smug bragging rights.

"Well, they couldn't hack it but our queen..OUR Queen knows what dedication is.. Why, she said so herself in 1947: 'I declare..'"

Now, fast forward 10 years to her 100th birthday. Still reigning, dedicated and going strong.

Me: Maybe she should take a break? Step down?

"NO, NO...she said 'I declare before you all'

Fast forward to 2030. The Queen is 104 and although in sound mind she is frail and fading slowly. Maybe it is time to call it a day?

"Never! Remember when she said 'I declare before you all..."

As she gets older this will become more absurd. It's as if it is a point of pride for people. We are here to remind her that she must keep going - no. matter. what. It wouldn't surprise me if people quoted it on her deathbed. The Queen did not write the speech and privately she must have misgivings about being held to those words: 'Out of all of the things I have said since then, that is what people remember?' How many of us would want to be held to something we said when we were 21? Even if it was the most moral, righteous, perfect statement. It would be a lot to live up to for anyone.

Here's the thing. Those words do not represent her reign. They do not encapsulate who she is as a person. If she decides to step down tomorrow, it will not diminish her stellar duty and devotion. If anyone deserves a break, it's her! After her death, it will be a long time before we see anyone as dedicated as her again.

So the next time she has a bout of ill health or another monarch steps down, instead of quoting that speech, how about looking at her realistically and cutting her some slack instead?

© Marilyn Braun 2015

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