This year has been full of festivities marking the 60th year of the Queen’s succession to the throne. One of the ways that the Government of Canada decided to honour the Queen for her years of service was to mint 60,000 Diamond Jubilee Medals that honoured significant contributions and achievements by Canadians. I was honoured and extremely surprised to be named a recipient.
When you live in England, the value of the monarchy is instilled in you at an early age. I remember sitting on a stool up at the kitchen “counter” or island as it is now called; my father was trying to get me to eat some last spoonfuls of porridge and I had my mouth firmly clamped shut... enough was enough! He was trying tricks like “open the tunnel, here comes a train”, with no reward... but then he said the magic words, “one more for the Queen!” Immediately, I knew it was my “duty” to open my mouth, how could one refuse the Queen?
You see, that is what the Queen means to many English children and to the public at large. The only way I can describe it is that she is like a well-respected grandmother. Each Christmas, we would gather around the television in the morning to hear the Queen’s message. My parents looked grave and listened intently but to be honest, I rarely paid attention to what she said - we just knew we were “expected” to sit and listen - no questions just quiet reflection... and then my father would say: “is that turkey in the oven?”
This is the world I was brought up in.
My father wrote to me once when I had moved away from my home town to say he had managed to “nab” a job as pass inspector to the Royal Enclosure at the Ascot horse racing course. We were all incredibly excited. He, a mere mortal, would be checking seating tickets of the elite! We loved his stories of who he had seen and how they had behaved. Obviously, no need to check “you know who!”
Then, when I emigrated to Canada, my father wrote by air mail and told me he had been invited to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. He was a member of the Executive of the National Union of eachers and had received an invitation in the mail. We were elated and he sent me a copy of the invitation.
You can see... we were totally smitten with the Queen... I have to say that we looked up to her more than the Prime Minister. We felt that she was the representative of England.
With that prequel, when I heard that I would receive the Diamond Jubilee Medal, I was very emotional... for three reasons.
First, to somehow be tied to the Queen’s sixty years of service and awarded a medal celebrating it, is an incredible honour for any English person because we know she has carried out her duties in such a emarkable way.
Secondly, when I came to Canada, I was so grateful to be allowed in this country, to be able to live in such a beautiful place, with a diverse and accepting population, where someone’s lower economic status or race would not be mocked ruthlessly, as was still the case in England. To receive a medal from my caring and loving “foster” country meant the world to me.
Lastly, in 1996 I had been infected with HIV for seven years. I was finally diagnosed in 1994 and had been hiding my illness, listening to people around me insanely talking about those with HIV without them knowing the truth or the facts. I had to decide whether to carry on my life in secrecy, with just a few people knowing, or whether I cared enough that people learn the truth and what their empty-headed words meant to me, a person who was infected with the virus and whose family was living every day with their comments.
Now, I know, it hasn’t exactly worked out as planned!.. but there have been some amazing changes and more people do care... and, in fact, incredibly, there is often too much apathy and some even think the pandemic is over!
But in the last week, we had terrible news from the Supreme Court that got the ranters raving and standing on their soap boxes again:
“Those people out there trying to infect us... let’s segregate them... I hope they all die, they deserve it!”
I have to say I’m tired... tired of saying time and time again:
“How about thinking before you start typing or opening your mouth? How about considering the terrible challenges people already face living with this disease? How about finding out the facts, the science, the truth?”
But then, there is the Medal, and it makes me feel that facing these type of people may not change their ignorance but it does say something about who I AM. It says: I will not lie down while you talk rubbish; I will not stand idly by while you treat people with an illness in a miserable way; and I will not stop educating people because maybe someone, just one person, will “get it”. And if that happens then it may be worthwhile. If I get a Medal then my conscience can reaffirm that I’m doing the right thing.