At least half of my roots go far back into the history of the United States of America. I have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. My kinfolk were hard scrabble people who emphasized the dignity of work done well and often spoke of their pride in being Americans. While my mother greatly admired Queen Elizabeth she admitted that America had allowed her to feel equal in every way to royalty. She once spoke of wanting to meet the queen but insisted that she would not be inclined to bow and curtsy to her. She enjoyed the freedoms of being American that her father had taught her to embrace. He had told his children that being citizens of the United States meant that they might openly celebrate the fact that they were as good and worthy as any other person on the earth. Mama certainly passed on such thinking to me and my brothers as well, so it was with a slight bit of haughtiness that I set out on a sunny Tuesday morning to view Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard.
The early hour ride on the Tube was quick and easy. There were only a few stops and no line changes so the members of my group and I chattered with excitement over the prospect of seeing a bit of British tradition come alive. A short walk through Green Part lead us directly to our destination and even from afar we saw the Queen’s flag flying to indicate that she was indeed at home on that day. We joked about hoping to catch a glance of her moving through the rooms knowing that it was unlikely to happen.
As we approached the London headquarters of her Majesty we marveled that we were going to get a ringside view of the proceedings because there were few people who had come three hours before the event. Our bubble of excitement was quickly burst when we observed that the red coated palace guards were not there, but instead had been replaced by an unfamiliar regiment wearing simple helmets and all black uniforms. Furthermore a small white notice posted on the fence announced that there would be no ceremonies on that day, so we just took a few photos and tried to hide our disappointment in seeing our carefully planned schedule changed so suddenly. We joked that we were at the very least able to get great images of the building itself and we waved back and forth at my sister-in-law Allison who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the title “Queen.”
In the spirit of keeping calm and carrying on we headed over to Westminster Abbey, a fairly easy walk from the palace. There was already quite a queue when we arrived but we had purchased tickets for the day in advance so we at least were in a shorter line than those who were buying admission on the fly. It was not long before we were inside that historic church and gazing at history.
The tour was self guided which turned out to be perfect for me. It allowed me to move at my own pace and experience unfettered emotions. The sheer scale of historical events and people associated with the place was overwhelming. I literally felt the spirit of the giants who had been there and were buried there, as well as the voices of the unnamed people who had worshiped in that sprawling area. It seemed that every inch of the place was filled with stories of humanity. I had studied the history of the kings and queens, read the works of the poets and writers, marveled at the contributions of the scientists and mathematicians. I walked humbly in their footsteps, honoring their memories as I read the plaques and actually saw images about which I had only before read.
I literally found myself feeling moved to tears more than once, so I was glad that I was alone. I was able to embrace my thoughts and my sense of connection with the sweeping history and importance of Westminster. I saw not just the glory of the very influential people who were buried there, but also the magnificence of the tradesmen who had built a structure that would live and breathe with life long after they were gone. I thought of my own grandfather Little and the pride that he had felt in being a builder of buildings. The mark of so many souls was present in every stone and every corner.
We had planned to attend Evensong at Westminster that evening but that too had been cancelled to allow for a concert instead. It was a great disappointment to husband Mike who had so looked forward to hearing the traditional evening service in honor of his grandmother who had kept the faith that she had learning in England when she came to Texas. He had hoped to get an idea of what his grandmother knew and loved, but even that plan was not to be.
I learned long ago that life is full of twists and turns that surprise us. I’ve had to be flexible for most of my life. I don’t always get what I want when I want it, but I know how to make the best of things. When we stopped for lunch after spending many hours exploring Westminster I took advantage of my smartphone and found that there were exactly six tickets remaining for the concert of that evening. After taking a quick poll of who wanted to attend the event I purchased them and suddenly we were set for a most remarkable and unexpected treat.
When we returned to Westminster later that day we were entertained with a choral extravaganza that included music from Handel that had been written for the coronation of George II in that very church. With the first strains of the music I found my eyes filling with tears of emotion. I heard the voices of the all male choir soaring to the top of the high ceiling just as it might have once done on a very important occasion of long ago. I gazed at the stained glass windows and the gigantic pillars with a more understanding set of eyes. I knew that the serendipity of our changed plans was better than a simple Evensong might have been and I was quite happy for Mike because I saw in his face that he was feeling the same as I was.
During a brief intermission I had time to speak to a lovely woman who was sitting beside me. By happenstance she had worked for a financial company whose headquarters are in Houston. She inquired about the floods that we experienced from hurricane Harvey and spoke of a fundraising drive that Londoners had held for my city. We talked as if we were old friends and in some ways perhaps we were. The sense of human connection that I felt in Westminster became even stronger and somehow I knew as strains of Bach’s Magnificat rounded out the concert that life always has a way of turning out just as it was meant to be. I heard not just the voices of the choir but also those of all who come before me, and it filled me with great joy.