When the Queen Died

Hatred does not cease by hatred, ever.

As an adolescent constantly searching to discover the appropriate spiritual path for my life, I came across a book titled The World’s Great Religions. One line from that book would remain with me the rest of my life: Verse 5 of the Buddhist Dhammapada. The translation was given as, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, ever. Hatred ceases by love.” (I’ve read other translations of the verse in the intervening years, but they are in essence the same.)

I had reason to recall this favorite quote when, like many people, I was shocked to read the controversial tweet by Carnegie Mellon Professor Uju Anya as news broke of Queen Elizabeth II’s imminent death. Dr. Anya wrote, “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” Twitter removed the post for violating its community guidelines, but not before it had circulated worldwide.

A short time later, Professor Anya followed her disturbing tweet with a factual, painful explanation. She described the genocide endured by the Igbo people, her people, when they attempted to separate from Nigeria to form the independent nation of Biafra. She detailed British involvement, wholly for financial reasons, in support of Nigeria during the ensuing war.

The child I had once been, reading that Buddhist quote at about the same time this war occurred, knew nothing of that conflict; Vietnam dominated the headlines for my young self. It was only after reading Dr. Anya’s explanatory remarks that I researched the history of the Biafra war. I found her description of British support of Nigeria in the war to be accurate, although the struggle was far more complex than she alluded; racism and wildly differing cultures helped ignite holocaust.

Nevertheless, after reading her explanation, Dr. Anya’s original tweet made far better sense to me. Filled with anguish for what her people had endured, she fastened upon the Queen as the singular object of her revulsion; the symbol of that past evil. I still could not, did not, approve of Dr. Anya’s spiteful words (hatred does not cease by hatred, ever), but I could certainly understand why she’d said them.

Yet I still had a real problem with Dr. Anya’s tweet. Those words, written by an educator, who claimed that they were, as she later remarked, “designed to educate people”, were simply inexcusable. The explanation that followed her outburst was educational; her malicious statement was not. Not in any way.

I do not pretend to be well-educated; in fact, my formal education is very slight. In consequence, I require more, a great deal more, of those who style themselves, by reason of years of study and position, to be educators. It was in that regard, as an educator, that Dr. Anya failed miserably.

Her outburst was, the professor asserted, an “unplanned, spontaneous” reaction when she learned that Queen Elizabeth was dying. That, too, did not wash. Anyone with a few functioning neural connections (and that would certainly include Carnegie Mellon professors!) knew for a good while that Elizabeth II hadn’t long to live. The Queen was 96 years old. She was the surviving spouse of a 74-year marriage—and Widowhood Effect has been understood for decades. She’d had Covid. When appointing Liz Truss as Prime Minister, she’d had to stand using a cane. Unplanned? Spontaneous? In my opinion, Dr. Anya’s vicious tweet was long planned, and anything but spontaneous. I simply could not accept her glib explanation that she was “triggered” upon learning that Queen Elizabeth was close to passing, and to my mind, that made the professor’s failure to first post the historical reasons for her fury even a greater failure of her position as an educator. She had ample time, during the Queen’s slow decline, to disseminate the terrible history of Britain’s behavior during the war, and engage her followers in frank discussion; to state why she held Queen Elizabeth, who was merely the titular head of the nation, personally responsible.

Put simply, Dr. Anya started at the wrong end of the stick. How many people saw only her first, inflamed tweet, and, disgusted, never read further to discover the very valid reasons behind her fury? How many more people might she have educated on the history of genocide had she first spoken factually, with restraint?

Professor Anya, an intelligent, well-educated woman, was so blinded by hate that she introduced her remarks in completely the wrong order, thereby garnering some sympathy, but also a great deal of antipathy.

Hatred does that. It blinds us and makes us behave poorly. And it does not cease.

Having struggled my whole life, though, with recurring bouts of rage and impotent fury for past abuse, I empathize with, while still not condoning, Dr. Anya’s reaction to the Queen’s passing.

Nevertheless, I persist in admiring Queen Elizabeth II for many reasons, not the least of which is the remarkable self-discipline that she demonstrated throughout her lifetime: her careful words and calm demeanor.

Had Dr. Anya been able to put aside her antipathy, even for a brief moment, might she have learned something from the Queen’s iron-willed self-control? Perhaps…

At any rate, Professor Anya, you successfully exacted belated vengeance upon a dying elderly woman and those who loved her, and I genuinely hope (although I doubt) that it helped you to heal at last. (Hatred does not cease by hatred, ever.)

Yet I somehow doubt that a double rainbow will split the sky at the hour of your own death.

If you appreciated this essay, you might also find something to like in “Princess Diana Saved My Life”, recently re-posted on August 31, 2022. You may locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below.

The Rocky Path to Unity

I simply did not understand her position—that being asked to sing a song as one, in unity, was a reason for more divisiveness.

A woman I know, who is Jewish, said she watched the Biden inauguration only to the point where Garth Brooks asked all present to join with him in singing Amazing Grace.  She was offended, she said, by being asked to sing a Christian song.

Now, I, personally, do not think of Amazing Grace as being an overtly Christian song.  It was sung regularly at services held by the interdenominational church that I attended for many years, although they did, in fact, change just a few of the words.  Our teaching being that, as children of the Divine, we must never speak badly of ourselves, the word “wretch” became “soul”; grace, we sang, taught our hearts to soar, not fear. Our congregation included members from faiths as diverse as Buddhist and Pagan, yet we all sang Amazing Grace together, raising our voices as one.  It was, to us, to me, a phoenix song; a song of rising from the ashes to experience blessings and mercy; of learning that we could trust, believing we were loved.

But, putting that heartwarming memory entirely aside, I genuinely could not comprehend her position: that being asked to sing a song as one, in unity, was a reason for more divisiveness.

Had I been asked to join in a Hindu or Buddhist chant, a Native American or Pagan invocation, a traditional Jewish song, or the lilting beauty of an old Black spiritual, one perhaps written over a century before to lift spirits caught in the squalid darkness of slavery—had I been asked to join in any of these, I would have done so gladly; been overjoyed to do so, in fact, for that would have represented to me the true unity of people of all faiths, all colors—all the glorious variety of humanity that makes up the diverse population of America.  I would have happily sung The Marseillaise or Garibaldi’s Hymn or We Shall Overcome. In a pre-pandemic world, I would have reached to join hands with the people beside me and chanted or prayed or sung with gladness.

Already dismayed by her remarks, I later read that many in American Indigenous communities were offended by hearing JLo sing This Land is Your Land. Again, I shook my head. Despite my mother’s oft-repeated claims, DNA testing has proved that I bear not a single drop of Native American blood in my veins, and I have no comprehension of what it must feel to have had one’s home and culture and language and spirituality wantonly stolen; to have been crushed beneath the heels of one’s oppressors.  Yet I’ve read scholarly articles explaining that Native American tribes waged war with one another for, yes, for land, for cultural and religious differences, for slaves and resources, long before the first Europeans ever dreamed of setting foot on these shores.  Humans are, sadly, warlike beings. Stealing land from one another has gone on for all the millennia of our existence. So a song written as an indignant retort to God Bless America hardly qualifies as an intended irritant to the Indigenous community, despite that it was taken that way.

That is, I think, the point I am struggling so hard to make: I am so weary of everyone taking offense to everything!  I am so tired of the lack of tolerance; of the hardened shells people continually build around themselves, claiming that inclusiveness means only that their perspective, their beliefs, be recognized. That theirs is the important viewpoint.  That everyone must not just listen, but bend, to their preference.

Why cannot “Merry Christmas!” be answered with, “Happy Festivus!” instead of a glare and a growl? Why cannot someone simply answer, “Well, I don’t celebrate, being Jewish, but I know you mean that kindly, so thank you.”  Why can we not consider the friendly intent, and respond in fashion? Why cannot we sip the nectar from the flower, and avoid the bee sting  within?

Unity, pleaded both our new President and the performers at his inauguration ceremony. Raise up your voices and sing together.  Put aside our differences and invoke tolerance, consideration, and courtesy. 

“Can we all just get along?” Rodney King asked in 1992.  And now, 29 years later, I fear the sad answer is, “No, Rodney.  No, it seems we can’t.”  Or won’t. Or don’t really want to do so.

But I will go on, attempting to instill my own behavior with tolerance, and understanding, and acceptance, because, as I was taught in childhood, one must set the example by one’s own life. Because it is the right thing to do.  Because the only way forth to unity is to set aside our propensity to hold tightly to our differences and wounded feelings, and accept, and even glory in, our common humanity.

Wearily, though, I know that someone will take offense, if not at this entire essay, to some point made within it.   They will respond with indignation or bitter anger, even threats, to my words.  Nevertheless, I retract nothing.  After all, (to paraphrase yet another song) I can’t please everyone, so I may as well please myself.

If you liked, rather than hated this essay (!), you might also enjoy “Roses of the Soul”, which you can find in the Archives from December 16, 2017.