Somewhere in London right now is a nameless, faceless bureaucrat punching tons above his weight class as he struggles mightily to corral monarchs, heads of state, and plenipotentiaries. Each of them is a petty king or queen in their own realm and unaccustomed to going second to anyone. But our bureaucrat will be responsible for ensuring their good behavior if only for an hour or two.
No one will ever know who he is or what he’s done… unless the wheels fall off and blame must find a home. Tomorrow the world will watch the spectacle of Britain honoring one of its most favored daughters. The watching world won’t know or care how the show was made or anything at all about the bureaucrat.
It’s cold comfort, but I’ll know. Or at least I’ll have the barest inkling of what’s gone into making sure the spectacle looks effortless. I’ll marvel at the effort, the sleepless nights, and the frenetic pace. Though you’ll remain forever unknown, I’ll salute you.
When you look for pomp and ceremony, there are few who do it better than the British. They make state occasions look easy – the opening of Parliament, the sovereign’s birthday, and other moments of ceremony go on as if nothing could be more natural. Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that celebrates a monarchy stretching back a thousand years.
State occasions are different here in our young republic. They tend to be more subdued and perhaps more egalitarian than those carried out by our cousins across the sea. The exception to America’s tendency towards more low key affairs, is the state funeral. It’s the one state occasion when our long ties back to the old world are most on display – and it’s a thing of real beauty.
From the Old Guard flanking the horse-drawn caisson in procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, and the muffled roll of the drums if it doesn’t make your breath catch, are you even really alive? The casket, lain on the Lincoln catafalque, in state beneath the arching dome of the Capitol, with average Americans shuffling past, unnaturally quiet in such a massive space, is one of those sights and moments that you never forget.
If you happen to be in the DC are over the next couple of days, do yourself a favor and go observe some of these moments – watch the procession to the Capital, wait for a bit in line to pass through the Rotunda and pay your respects. Even if you had political differences with the departed, its an American experience you owe yourself.
I’ve never seen anything like, nor done anything harder than this week’s wake and funeral for my cousin. They came from across the continent, family I hadn’t seen in years, to stand in a line around the block for just a hug or a handshake, a moment’s respects, and then to shuffle off into the night. The crush of mourners at the church, filling the old sanctuary to capacity and swelling beyond had a certain dream-like quality. Surely it wasn’t possible that so many people had come there, too. There is something about Bach, played heavily on the pipe organ that has the power to both raise the human spirit and reveal the depths of human suffering. A child-sized casket, stark against the lush green of grass and trees just beyond and the forlorn sigh of a father who would never again set mortal eyes on his son, is simply more than a just or a righteous God would allow. Time may dim, but will not erase, these days and these feelings of utter helplessness at a loss too terrible to contemplate. My fervent hope is that his parents endure this senseless suffering and find peace in their time.