Wednesday, May 30, 2012

If Cabinets Could Speak

My mother pointed to a photograph of a cabinet she liked in a book on antiques and said, “That’s the one!” She was speaking with a cabinetmaker and asked him to make her an exact copy of the piece of furniture she admired. In due course, the cabinet arrived and took a place of honor in our front hall. Mother tastefully arranged various treasures behind its glass-paneled doors. Being a ‘modern’ piece of furniture, it was even illuminated with tiny lights and looked so warm and welcoming. Although this cabinet cannot reveal all of what it has witnessed over the years, it is symbolic of so many pieces of furniture we all have owned. Each of these pieces has seen so much of the lives of the people who have passed them as they stood by in quiet statuesque solitude.

For me growing up, the cabinet saw the smiles on my sister’s and my face as we raced down the stairs on Christmas morning. It saw the terror in my eyes on the days my report card would arrive in the mail and heard the wrath that ensued from a mother whose underachieving son was a huge disappointment. It witnessed the dogs and the guests and the beautiful flowers that paraded by frequently, smelling the orchids, feeling the teeth of a young puppy gnawing at its very legs and hearing the joyful laughter and sometimes unpleasant remarks that it was privy to.

This cabinet moved after my parents divorced and moved many times subsequently as my mother took it with her from house to house. In every house it had the same tasteful display of her personal treasures. After she died, the cabinet became mine. I filled it with my own stuff, and as I moved through my life, so this cabinet bore witness to another generation of joys and sorrows, of new surroundings and of many magical moments. I hope it has been happy in my custody.

Those tiny lights burned out and the replacements depleted over the years. The cabinet’s interior became dark as the bulbs went out one by one. Finding new bulbs seemed impossible. I had almost given up.

Then one day, as luck would have it, I was driving the Red Baron (my car) through Worcester, Mass., and the oil light came on. Since this had happened before, I knew this time that it meant to pull over immediately and find some oil. I wandered around a bit before finding a service station. The trick was finding my way back to the highway. Well, wouldn’t you know in my wanderings through the town that I passed a store called A proverbial light bulb went off, and I thought perhaps they could help me in my quest for tiny lights for the cabinet. After a few minutes of sifting through catalogs on the computer they located two such bulbs. Of course they were not in stock and on back order. Then, one day they arrived. Rarely have I ever been so excited by a small padded envelope.

The cabinet took on a whole new life. It seemed to thank me for resurrecting its ability to see so many things it had been unable to see for so long. I arranged a whole new group of objects on the newly illuminated shelves. This time, they were a collection of wonderful tea bowls by resident potter Tom Smith. They sparkled like jewels as they overlooked the newly decorated Windsor House Bar Room. The cabinet now watches over my friends and me as we solve the world’s problems from the comfort of the same chairs it watched my mother and her friends do the exact same thing. The conversations that evolve over glasses of ‘oh be joyful’ or a cup of tea are permanently recorded in this stronghold of time immemorial. It gives me a great sense of gratitude and comfort every time I turn on and off its tiny lights.

If we look around our houses and our busy lives, we all have these silent memory banks, which hold so many priceless treasures. These are not always treasures of intrinsic value, but rather of sentimental value. Most will be lost to our own memories, but when we walk by these silent sentinels of our lives, we cannot help but remember from time to time the events that we shared.

I enjoy taking the time to sit quietly, alone sometimes, and to reminisce about days gone by. It brings gratitude back into focus and helps me to remember how lucky I am to have connected with so many people. These connections are what make us human. Talk to your cabinets from time to time. They listen and often they even respond in genuinely comforting ways.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Diamond Jubilee

It’s difficult to imagine the magnitude of the historic significance of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Nothing like this has ever happened in our lifetimes and won’t ever again. The world is so completely different than it was when H.M. Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, a time when the sun never set on The British Empire. With the changes of world power, political and economic climates, and technology, the Monarchy has adapted skillfully, partly out of necessity, but especially due of the unparalleled dedication of The Queen.

There are many lessons one can learn from studying Her long and colorful reign. It has not been that far removed from our own lives in many ways, filled with highs and lows. For many reasons the Royal Family is different from ‘us’, but not above ‘us’. Aside from the star quality that many senior members of the family have attained, their most shining quality is their dedication to service of others. Here we can all take the lead by following their example and commit to helping those in our own families and communities.

During the extensive Royal Tours, which a number of members of the Royal Family are conducting on behalf of Her Majesty around the world, the theme is one of gratitude to those people who have served selflessly on behalf of The Queen in various capacities in both military and civil affairs. Her genuine thankfulness is reflected in wide-ranging awards of recognition, which includes helping some of the most vulnerable members of our communities and the recognition of our most heroic men and women in uniform.

One need not be a staunch Monarchist to see and appreciate the enormous uplifting of human spirit that the pomp and pageantry events involving the Royal Family in general and The Queen specifically bring to our lives. I remember watching Her Majesty’s family enjoying the joys of marriage, the distresses of divorce, and the circle of life as a whole, which is in fact part of our all of our lives.

The Queen’s yearly Christmas broadcasts, speeches from the throne, and innumerable other words demonstrate a sincerity and keen awareness few world leaders can manage. The devotion to Her husband, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, is heartwarming. Prince Philip has been a pillar of strength for Her over the years while maintaining a clearly independent agenda carefully avoiding politics. They have shown us how to instill a good sense of humor and a sense of duty into our own lives and those of our friends and family.

Many will argue that the obvious advantages Her Majesty is imbued with set Her above the day-to-day struggles others endure. I would counter this line of reasoning by suggesting that the differences are more surface than anything. During Her Majesty’s long reign, The Queen has had enormous challenges to handle from the business of running one of the world’s largest private companies to maintaining a public image that has needed to change as a chameleon.

Fortunately as a result of Her Majesty’s tireless dedication to duty, The Queen has created countless new opportunities to share the Royal Collections, Royal Residences, and in fact Her Majesty’s family with millions of people who have flocked to the British Isles as visitors. No Sovereign has maintained the schedule The Queen has. She has circled the globe countless times, welcomed more Heads of State than any world leader could ever hope to, and through Her benevolence has arguably brought more joy and happiness to people around the world than any other living soul.

I hope we can all take a moment to reflect on Her Majesty’s long reign this weekend and throughout the year. The Queen has taught me many valuable lessons through Her example of kindness, compassion and selflessness. The Queen has not lead us astray with greed or insensitivity, and has shown us how we all can adjust when necessary with hugely positive results. As we celebrate this historic occasion, let’s try to keep Her Majesty’s spirit of service in our hearts. That is what this Diamond Jubilee is really all about. Long live The Queen!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Royal Visit Etiquette

This is one of those rare weekends where The Monarchy will be on many of our minds. We will celebrate Victoria Day and we will be welcoming Charles, Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall to the Province as a part of the year long celebration of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. How remarkable that we mark this weekend as a celebration of the only two Queens to have ever achieved such historic longevity!

Many questions arise whenever senior members of The Royal Family visit The Commonwealth. We love the mystique that surrounds The Monarchy and the pomp and circumstance that accompanies such visits. Sales of shoe polish and Union Flags as well as hats and flowers peak during such occasions and a flurry of excitement penetrates our day-to-day lives.

What does one do and say if one should be lucky enough to meet Royalty? When meeting a senior Royal, men bow from the neck, ladies perform a small curtsey (not a Broadway bow) as a sign of respect and meet the extended hand with a firm grip simply saying, “Your Royal Highness”. In the rare case of meeting The Queen the address would be “Your Majesty”. Allow them to initiate the conversation, which they will do with great ease. Following this initial greeting, they should be addressed as either “Sir” or “Ma’am” (pronounced like ‘ham’). They greet thousands of people yearly and want more than anything to make who they are meeting feel at ease. They do, after all, put their trousers on one leg at a time just like everyone else.

May we give them a gift of any sort? It is quite traditional for young girls to offer a small bouquet of fresh flowers to female members of the Royal Family. Men receive no gifts. I am always amazed at how well coordinated the walkabouts are and how the endless bouquets are handled. There is either a Private Secretary of Lady-in-Waiting handy to relieve the Royal of the armfuls of flowers. These are ultimately donated to local hospitals or other charities for the enjoyment of people who will likely have their spirits lifted.

What do we wear along the parade route? This might be a good day to dress nicely anticipating that you might meet a member of The Royal Family. If possible, procure a small Union Flag for excited waving. A clean shirt and tidy hair are always encouraged. Imagine that if a photo is snapped of you meeting a member of the Royal Family, years down the road you will want to be proud of how you presented yourself, eh? Of course, sensible footwear and outer garments to keep one warm and dry are appropriate depending on the weather. It’s a time to be on one’s best behavior. Such moments are not everyday occurrences, now are they?

What’s all the fuss about anyway? Like any exciting event, such as The Grey Cup, there are those who participate and those who do not. Not everyone understands or cares about Monarchy, but for those who do, a Royal Visit is a fine reason for celebration, even if only viewed from the comfort of one’s living room on the TV. This particular moment in history is a first and won’t repeat during our lifetime. The significance of a Diamond Jubilee is not to be underestimated. Historians love new milestones along the timeline of human events. Social commentators will relate to the enduring role that achievements with such longevity lend to the durability of the very fabric that is the civility that gives quality to out lives.

Because The Monarchy is no longer the actual governing body of our Nation, Royal Visits are rarely times for restless political demonstrations. Occasionally groups will use such moments to bring attention to themselves, but this is not only inappropriate, but mostly ineffectual. Careful preparation and vigilance minimize the likelihood of such disturbances being disruptive during to these visits.

If you plan to attend a parade or just follow the proceedings online or on television, embrace The Monarchy for what it is. That is open to interpretation for each of us. The Monarchy has been both traditional and adaptable over the past sixty years. We can always feel comfortable having our own feelings about The Monarchy and it's role in our lives.  The example Her Majesty has shown us during her long reign on how to cope under trying times and good ones serve not only her subjects, but also the whole world. Perhaps if we were to take some time and appreciate her awareness, compassion and gratitude, we might carry these qualities throughout our daily lives and hope that the longevity of The Monarchy will sustain what we value in the social order we live by.