• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pomp & Blarney

It was a sight to behold as Her Majesty rolled out the pomp for Ireland's poet-philosopher President, Michael D. Higgins.

This was no ordinary state visit.  England certainly knows how to do it up with that high degree of shine and flutter which stops just short of ridiculous.   But this was different.  The welcome for His Excellency, Mr. Higgins was a gaudy state visit.

Not only was Higgins greeted in style, he was escorted in style, taken into the royal carriage, in a progress of carriages which, flanked by shimmering guardsmen and running footmen, made its way into the courtyard of the Queen's personal residence, Westminster Castle, where a military review was held of the Irish Guards whose mascot, an Irish wolfhound was awarded a doggie-jacket by the President -- it being precisely the comedy of such deeds which prevents the whole thing from becoming a joke.   No. This was not a mere state visit; it was more like a state wedding.

After a bitter divorce. The official theme of the visit was "reconciliation and renewal." But it was heartier than that.  There was a message within the pomp which said:  My realm and I really want to appreciate you.

Queen Elizabeth is no stranger to smiles.  They are, after all, her craft and trade.  But there was more than just professional sparkle in her eyes. Her glance at Higgins showed genuine happiness and warmth.

At the dinner Higgins laid it on thick, salting his words with Gaelic and stopping just short of the tedious.  But his remarks summed the matter of 500 years up,

"We live in the shadow of each other," he said,  but "the shadow of the past has become the shelter of the present" and the Queens example has "encouraged us to embrace best version of each other."

There was a deep and abiding personal element here which is usually lacking in mere state affairs; and to be English or Irish is to know it. The history of the past 500 years between the two peoples comes close to embodying all that is perversely poisonous in religion and commerce.   It casts long shadows of disparagement and resentment.

But the Queen's decision to visit Ireland two years ago was more than "putting the past behind us."  It was something more metaphysical -- an engagement to work the shadow into light.

We have gone
, said Higgins to both Houses of Parliament,  from the doubting eyes of estrangement to the trusting eyes of partnership and, in recent years, to the welcoming eyes of friendship.

For a monarch whose life work has been the gracious letting go of empire, this work stood for the regain of a familial neighbour. 

What saved the affair from insubstantiality was not only the frank acknowledgement of mutual estrangements and cruelties but an equally open acknowledgement that friendships arise from the each and own of mutual advantage.  As correct religion reinforces commonality so too proper commerce eschews exploitation in favor of commingling.

It was the happiness of a solid occasion.