I have been surprised to find myself increasingly sad at the death of Prince Philip. This may seem odd as I never met him. So why am I sad? I have been pondering this and have identified four reasons. And what can I do about the sadness? Nothing – but I believe it will pass and I will settle into a hope founded in the Easter story which is, after all, the great surrounding narrative of the week in which Prince Philip died.
I am sad, first, because I never met Prince Philip. I never really knew much about him, having grown up in a different country and also being very wary of the kind of tabloid curiosity that surrounds the Royal Family. Now that he has died, the news is full of stories and reminiscences about him. Some of the memories are those of people I know, my own diocesan bishop, Paul Butler and our former diocesan bishop Justin Welby. From what they and others say about Prince Philip, he sounds like a deep, thoughtful and caring man.
I was born and raised in a time and place and social class that prevented me ever knowing him. And I feel this now as a profound loss.
Second, I am suddenly aware of how much The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have jointly formed one of the foundational institutions underlying my whole life. They were already well established when I was born in 1972 and have always just been there. It is so destabilising for this foundation to vanish. Is nothing eternal? Is nothing solid? Knowing that Prince Philip was 99 really doesn’t help – at a rational level I knew he must die soon but at an emotional level I think I really expected him simply to endure forever.
Third, it is humbling to learn just how much Prince Philip achieved in his life. Granted he was a little over twice my age. But still I wonder whether I will ever achieve half as much. It is especially his investment in other people that strikes me. Not only was he a great support to The Queen, but also a much loved father and someone who championed many causes. Most notable is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. And these are enduring achievements that will last well beyond his years. He leaves a legacy.
Here, the lament is for missed opportunities. Or, perhaps, a fear of missed opportunities. Will I leave a similar legacy? I certainly would like to. What if I don’t? Such a legacy is built up in thousands, perhaps millions of small day to day choices as well as in a few larger one-off decisions. Am I living day to day in a way which will leave a legacy? And will I know before it is too late?
Finally, I am deeply sad for The Queen. I was struck so powerfully by the word used in the announcement of his death, he was The Queen’s “beloved” husband. It is only now I learn that she knew him since she was 13 and that as a teenager he became increasingly dear to her. When they married they made a commitment that was to last for a very long time and which they would honour and work out through the rest of their lives. The result of all the 73 years of marriage (and the years of courtship before that), was that he was her “beloved”. At some level I feel that their love should last forever and their story should never end.
The same thing happened to me with James Cameron’s movie Titanic. The love between Rose and Jack should never have been sundered and I felt so deeply the immense sense of loneliness of Rose who was forced to move on and live her life without him.
The difference, though, is that Titanic was fiction. As a story it need never have happened. The story of The Queen and Prince Philip, on the other hand, is non-fiction. Herein lies both the greatest sting and also the deepest hope. The sting is that I cannot simply ignore the story of The Queen and Prince Philip as “not real”, which I can for Rose and Jack. But there is also a real world hope that Titanic lacks. In the fictional world of Titanic, the story ends at the conclusion of the movie. In this real world, however, I live with a hope that I believe Prince Philip shared: that one day the world will be remade and the dead will rise. Those who have made a habit in life of following Jesus and becoming more Christlike will have an eternal future in this new creation.
So I believe Her Majesty The Queen will one day know Prince Philip alive again. And I believe I will also have the chance to know him, what with us all living forever – our paths will cross in due course. And I believe that The Queen and Prince Philip and I and all other people who live in the new creation will all have one perfect enduring foundation in Jesus. And I believe I will see my own legacy in the people who are there in that future because of the investment I made in their lives.
This gives me a simple day-today way of achieving a legacy. First and foremost, the people for me to invest in are my wife and children. Beyond them are the people of churches and parishes for which I am responsible. And beyond them is every person I ever encounter in any way as I live out my life from day to day. I pray this will amount to quite a crowd.
These last few paragraphs are what I am moving towards. My head is already there. My heart is not yet there and I am still sad. But I believe this sadness will pass in due course and be replaced by hope.