Community Voices

Out of My Mind: Joe Biden in Ireland & the Royal Family

We all want peace—or so we say. Why is it so difficult to make and maintain peace? President Biden and the British Royal Family might give us a hint.

Today, Biden is in Ireland—a nation is known for its historical ire and traditional enmities. He is visiting two lands (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) that are more or less at peace—both with each other and internally.

Across the Irish Sea, a mere 12 miles at the nearest part, England is a mess. Brexit has decimated its economy. Both major political parties are held in low regard, but most illustrative of my point (that I am approaching…if slowly) is the chaos and turmoil in the Royal Family.

While Biden tours the mostly peaceful island of Ireland, the Royals model a kind of disarray and dysfunction that, sans the violence of Henry VIII, recalls Henry’s time. The longstanding fighting between the Catholics and Protestants is on a low simmer. People who fought, feared, hated, killed, and died have given way to people who dare to hope and heal.

Meanwhile, the Royal Family (the Windsor Mountbatten- Battenberg, Saxe-Coburgs) are in an ugly internecine battle for…for…WHAT? While Ireland heals, the Royals, well, roil their own waters and fight over who occupies which castle or estate, who attends the coronation and, old Kremlin style, who stands on the Royal balcony and next to whom.

In Ireland, old battles over religion and colonialism that in the Troubles left 3,500 dead and 50,000 injured move towards reconciliation, while in England, new battles over status move only towards silly. In England, a divorced king is a king. A divorced wife of the king is at first the Duchess of Cornwall, then Her Majesty Duchess of Rothesay, then Queen Consort, and now Queen.

Earlier in our soap opera, Lady Diana became Her Royal Majesty Diana, Princess of Wales, then lost “Her Royal Highness.” Having learned nothing from trying to manage the marriages of the Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson, the royals meddled with Charles, Diana, and Camilla—to a tragic effect. Continuing the pattern of no learning, the royals meddled in the romance between Harry and Meghan Markle. This is going as well as things went with the Duke, with Princess Margaret, and with Charles himself. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, will not be attending the coronation or standing on the balcony.

So, who cares? I don’t care a bit. Why then am I writing about a soap opera with no inherent importance while most of the non-royal world struggles with real problems? The reason is the truth—maybe sad or possibly hopeful—that it’s easier to reconcile and embrace a former enemy than a former friend or family member. There was more warmth in Northern Ireland today between members of the Sinn Fein Party and the Protestant Unionists than at any Royal Garden Party of recent memory.

Once upon a time, Prime Minister Begin could go to Cairo, and President Sadat could visit Yad Vashem. The German Ambassador could be at the 70th anniversary of D-Day, John McCain could embrace his former captors and torturers in Vietnam. Today, Israelis can move to Germany and have destination weddings in Dubai but making peace at home just seems too difficult. Our human capacity to forgive but not forget is amazing and a source of great hope.

In this season of hope, I’m torn. Spring calls for faith in our ability to renew our world and our lives. Jews celebrate the Passover and the rebirth of freedom. Christians celebrate Easter and its promise of rebirth. Muslims commemorate Ramadan and remember the message of Mercy and Compassion that precedes virtually every chapter of the Quran. Yet, we fail to heed the message and make peace.

I want to be inspired to get involved in changing the historic patterns of enmity. However, despite all our science, all our technology, despite our ability to produce enough food to feed the world and attack the scourges of famine and disease, we seem to reject much of the love in our faith traditions, and too many refuse to use science and reason to solve our problems.

We can argue, even fight, about faith versus reason, but when we abandon both, we become unmoored and drift from passion to despair, from passivity to rage. There is so much going on in our world that seems Apocalyptic. The sky is falling and bringing pollutants down with it. The seas are rising as our icecaps melt, and the defrosting tundra is releasing methane into our already polluted skies. Authoritarian governments are spreading as chaos breeds insecurity, and insecurity breeds a desire for order. We see challenges and enemies all over, and most tragically, we see them up close and personal. We have been turning on each other and seeing our adversaries as our enemies and our politics as a war between good and evil.

We Americans are acting too much like the House of Windsor, fighting each other and demonizing each other. We could take a hint from the once Fighting Irish and move pragmatically towards peace—peace that inevitably will be uneasy at first but can grow if we but nurture it. As St Francis of Assisi is quoted, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”