Annie D. Stutley
Sep 13, 2022
Why can’t a monarch wear whatever shade of nail polish she wants?
Years ago, when I was performing in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit in my alma mater’s spring arts festival, I had to master the British dialect—well, as much as a teenager from south Louisiana could. In my dialect training, one word stood out from the rest: duty. I relished how the pronunciation promenaded off my tongue: /ˈdjuːti/. That “j” after the “d” made all the difference. When I spoke it, I instantly found myself standing taller, shoulders back…regal. Before my entrance each evening, I’d stand in the wings, whispering, “duty, duty, duty,” drumming the word over and over to warm up my dialect and get into character. My character, Elvira, was no stiff-upper-lipped queen, though. In fact, she was mischievous, morally flippant, but nonetheless hailed from the UK; and no word breathed the land of tea and scones, country sides and dressage, polo and Paddington Bear into me more than noble, dignified “duty.”
I’d go on to inherit my mother’s tendency toward Anglophilia. I can rattle off the difference between afternoon tea and high tea with more confidence than I can explain the purpose of Groundhog’s Day. (Which shadow is the one we want? I never remember.) I’m both a Mayflower and Jamestown descendant, and yet I have more books about the Plantagenets than I do the colonists, and when I stood in the childhood bedroom of Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle five years ago, I was at a complete loss for words, a reverence I usually reserve for places of holy significance. Through all this, “/ˈdjuːti/, /ˈdjuːti/, /ˈdjuːti/” is what I utter as I turn on another rerun of Downton Abbey and picture life as a countess.
If you’re watching the coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, you hear “duty” repeated, except it is often alongside the noun selflessness. “The queen was ever committed to her selfless duty, country before self.” Duty is defined as a moral or legal responsibility, something we may not want to do but something we should do because, well, “it’s our duty.” It seems selfless is almost unnecessary. Did the queen secretly want to let her sister marry the man she truly loved, regardless of the scandalous optics? Probably. Did she even want to have such a big funeral for Diana? Maybe not. Did she even like that shade of pink nail polish she exclusively wore, Ballet Slippers, but only wore it because…wait. Why can’t a monarch wear whatever shade of nail polish she wants? Because duty? That one seems a little stuffy, even for Great Britain. But regardless, my point is we equate duty with an elite class when the essence of duty is about as humble as anything abstract can be because isn’t duty just another word for sacrifice?
Make believe is fun no matter my age, but silly, Annie. Duty, not even /ˈdjuːti/, is reserved only for the divine right of kings. In fact, it was the king of kings who left all of us with one job: duty.
Jesus didn’t deliver what would become the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) to a room of royalty. It was directed toward all of us regular sinners, people like you and me, and Queen Elizabeth, also a regular sinner. The Beatitudes? Same. The Lord’s Prayer? Yep, for all of us. The prodigal son, the mustard seed, and the pharisee and the tax collector? He was calling all of us to duty, all of us to love God and let that reverence produce forgiveness, generosity, wisdom, faith, and hope regardless of its convenience.
I find it noteworthy that my key verse this week in my devotional is Colossians 3:23-2: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” In other words, assuming our life’s calling isn’t illegal or morally corrupt, whatever we do, we must do it for righteousness, knowing that a kingdom awaits all of us who believe.
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