It is the end of not one, but two eras. Last week I shed tears on hearing the news that Her Majesty the Queen of England had passed away. Last night another crushing blow was delivered: Roger Federer, tennis royalty, told his fans on social media that he was going to retire as a professional tennis player. As always in times of crisis, I turned to my books in order to keep me sane. Want to know if it worked? Read on!
I have met neither the Queen nor Roger Federer. The closest I came to meeting the Queen was during my trips to London, where I watched the Changing of the Guards in front of Buckingham. I always liked to pretend she must have been watching the parade, too, lifting a curtain in high-up window, obscured from the crowds but always just there, like the eternal unseen presence she has been all my life. Similarly, watching his match on Henman Hill at Wimbledon on a giant tv screen (which, believe me, is different from watching tennis at home on the small screen – and my mum definitely agrees!), I knew Roger Federer was only a couple hundred feet away from us – and it was almost magical.
There are people who buy cars or clothes that were touched by rock stars. There are people who spend hours queueing for a chance to get their books signed by the author. I am like that, somewhat. Being in (imagined) proximity of the Queen and Roger Federer made me feel like I was part of their lives, however small. It reminded me of the novel Possession by A. S. Byatt, and in particular of this one biographer who collects everything that’s mentioned by his favourite poet, Randolph Henry Ash – although this man wasn’t really interested in literature, but more into claiming all these things as his own. I never wanted anything like this. Instead, I just watched them whenever they were on tv, hoping that they would teach me a thing or two.
Many literary characters are guided through life by someone else, usually an older person. Think of Gandalf in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or Dumbledore in Harry Potter, or Chiron teaching Achilles in Ancient Greek literature. Obviously, Queen Elizabeth II has never taught me anything in person, but I have learned a lot from her. She taught me how to remain calm, and how to always be dignified. She showed me the importance of history, the essence of Britishness. She taught me how not to judge, and the true meaning of responsibility. I never envied her job, but, being quite emotional at times, have often wished I could compose myself as well as she used to do.
And then there’s Roger Federer. Oh, he taught me countless things, most of which aren’t even about tennis. He did inspire me to use a one-handed backhand, simply because it looked so much more elegant (and it did help that my two-handed backhand was crap), and I did want to glide on the court like he did. At the start of his career, he was known as an angry young man, complaining to the umpire and throwing rackets away (which reminds me of another tennis player) in frustration. Later on, however, he learned to repress his anger. Now, Federer’s name has become synonymous with grace, modesty, passion for the sport, and respect for his competitors. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like him. Now that I’ve grown up, I know I never will be.
And now the Queen is dead. And now Roger Federer will retire from tennis. In seven days, two pillars of my life have crumbled away. I never knew them, but I have loved both of them for years, unconditionally, and. I feel like my life will never be the same again. I have spent the last couple of days continously watching the BBC with their reports on the Queen, and reading every single news article about or tribute to Roger Federer. I can’t focus on anything else, nor do I want to.
The Queen once said: ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’. I was dressed in black twice last week, to pay my respects to the Queen and to Roger Federer. My boyfriend told me to grow up, and said I should have been lucky to have witnessed these two lives for so long. I disagreed; I wished I could just ignore everything and pretend nothing had changed. But that reminded me of Peter Pan, who seems to be blessed with eternal youth, but is in fact cursed, because not growing up means forgetting everything that ever happens to him. I do need to grow up, even if it hurts. That’s because I want to remember.
Were you touched by the Queen’s death? Or by Roger Federer’s retirement? Which famous person do you really look up to? Could you ever really love someone you have never met? Please share in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!