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Stacking the Ends of Eras


A smattering of leaves in my neighbor's trees is already turning yellow. It feels as though I just watched green leaves grow onto those bare branches a few short weeks ago. Again, the year has turned, showing the end of this cycle, leading to the start of others. One cycle we watched end together was through the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and no matter your feelings about the royalty of the USA's former landlords, it's a moment in history that will join us together.

Life is full of moments of remembering where you were at a specific moment: Where were you when JFK was shot, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon or when Princess Diana died? I woke up late on a Sunday morning, coming down the stairs blurry-eyed. In the living room, my mom was hunched toward the TV on the couch when she told me flatly Diana had died. There was only one Diana.

We lived in Germany at the time, and while I wouldn't say that we were necessarily royal-watchers, in Europe, royals are a strange part of the fabric of the culture, even if it's a like a doily under an antique clock that doesn't work. We'd like to think that we're different here, but there was a lot of press when Betty White died. And it is cultural, because I had to explain to my Mexican husband that Betty White was not "the cake lady," Betty Crocker.

My induction into royal-watching came from the weeklies my German Oma would buy for the crossword puzzles. The magazines had thin, cheap paper and enough fodder with not just the British royals, but all the weird little pockets of royalty still scattered throughout the continent. Royals were an odd sort of celebrity, thrust into the public eye only because of the station of their birth. They may have had wealth, but their personal lives mirrored those of the hoi polloi.

My mom was only a couple of years older than Diana when she died and had followed a similar timeline in marrying and having kids. The next generation then mirrored me. The new Prince of Wales is my age and married in the same year as me. His eldest is the same age as mine.

Then time passed, and I grew beyond the age Diana was frozen in, but still watching others from her era lose their hair, remarry, shake more hands and try to keep an institution going that had lost its footing in power decades before.

We knew that the passing of the Queen would come, but the closing of an era makes you reflect on streams of lives that run in parallel to ours, and even if they are very far apart from how we live our daily lives, they, too, cannot escape hardship and mortality.

Queen Elizabeth was still working earlier in the week before she died, shaking the hand of the new Prime Minister Liz Truss, born in 1975. The first prime minister she shook hands with under her reign was Winston Churchill, born in 1874. So much has changed, except for death.

The span of her life saw the beginning and ends of political, technological, and social eras. Like her, we might live in the microcosm of our day-to-day lives, but the swirl of history keeps flowing around us. My children will never know a time before the internet like me. They will see more of the decisions we make now than I can rightly predict. Let's hope we make choices that can ring from beyond the gravestones we'll leave behind.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.