Crown And Corona
She did not mention it once.
Looking straight to camera, back upright with the gait of a fencer, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the British people, the Commonwealth and the wider world, speaking to the heart of the heartache.
During her 523 words, delivered in 250 seconds, there was one glaring omission. She did not mention ‘Covid-19’, nor did she once refer to ‘coronavirus’. Let the enemy not command our energy in its naming.
The most unnerving part of this global medical emergency is its unspeakability; its invisibility.
The virus is raging and unseen; its effects are understandable but its mechanisms are not fully understood; it is everywhere and nowhere.
The counter-intuitive medical fact is that Covid-19 does not have intrinsic life. The English word ‘virus’ is taken directly from the same Latin word, meaning venom. As a microbe, it relies on our cells for its energy and life-giving properties. Coronavirus is nature’s zombie; an emissary of the living dead.
As the Queen spoke, broach to the left of her, flowers to the right of her, another event unfolded some 40 kilometres east of Windsor Castle, in the heart of Westminster.
Her fourteenth Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was admitted to hospital, ten days after announcing that he had contracted coronavirus.
The development went unspoken by her for obvious reason. Her speech was pre-recorded and the consequence of Mr Johnson’s insistent high temperatures were, for the Queen, unknowable.
And yet, the choreography was no coincidence. In the moment when a nation received a transfusion of resolve and fortitude, its foppish liegeman was carted through the wings, to the sanatorium.
Viewing her speech from my smartphone, I felt a moment of quiet poetry unfurl as the near 94-year-old monarch spoke.
There are rhymes, paradoxes and sonnets everywhere, under the bonnet of this novel strain of corona. I make note as they occurr.
Covid-19 is a virus that can dangerously infect the mind before ever finding the body. It is as virulent on the lips as it is in the mouth.
The virus forces us to take distance from those we love most, for our mutual protection. What a strange remedy, this social isolation! I am used to solitary confinement as a weapon of the prison system. But in Coronaland, punishment is cure.
And yet, although it brings havoc and economic devastation, Covid-19 may also sow the seeds to save the world. It may help us alter our current path of environmental destruction; it may encourage us to halt a consumerism which self-consumes.
The search for rhyme ran through my mind as I listened on.
Unique in the annals of public speaking, Queen Elizabeth recalled a political moment from her own life fully four score years before, in 1940. There has never been a monarch nor active politician who could cast such an eye back so far.
During the Blitz, at the age of 14, the Princess Elizabeth (helped by her sister, Margaret Rose) spoke via the BBC to displaced children of Britain and the Commonwealth who had been moved outside of cities and outside of Britain for their safety during war.
In that radio broadcast, the teenage heir-apparent spoke of the courage which the time demanded, and invited children listening to ‘bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war’.
Eighty years later, her words are wrought from the same rock, for the same immutable purpose.
‘We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again.’, she says, evoking a time when life gets better. She follows with a phrase that wraps 1940 and 2020 together.
‘We will meet again.’
Leadership is, when pared to its core, eloquent direction.
It is the ability to articulate that which is needed, leaving unspoken all that is understood. It is the requirement for a steady hand when all is flailing, laid up upon a stretcher. It is the ability to stay the course, and to endure.
I was full of admiration, as I sat alone, watching this woman on screen who also sat alone. Here was the leadership of an elderly person whose own generation is either already dead, or now being brutally swept away. In the constancy of her words, for one brief instant, I felt corona bow to the Crown.