The Woman on the Money

Queen Elizabeth II passed away yesterday.

I’m guessing pretty much everybody knows that at this point. It’s rather dominating the news.

Why am I writing about this, aside from the fact that it’s a significant world event?

Well, while most of the world thinks of Canada as little more than America Jr, it’s easy to forget that Canada is actually a Commonwealth country. Which means that in an albeit impractical way, Elizabeth was our Queen too.

What does being part of the Commonwealth mean? Eh, not a whole heck of a lot. It’s a holdover from colonial days, and it’s a commitment to similar progressive political values, but the UK itself seems to be heading in the direction of a very poor role model these days and isn’t always doing a great job of upholding those values itself. Plus it’s not like a country has to join the Commonwealth to have those same values. It’s a lot of “in name only” stuff, really.

But it does mean that in some way, Queen Elizabeth was a semi-regular part of my existence despite me not having lived in the UK since I was 5.

When I was in my early 20s, some friends and I were hanging out. I don’t know how the conversation turned this way, but we were talking about money, and Canada’s money has a picture of the reigning British monarch on it. I’d forgotten her name at the time, so in a painfully awkward manner, I’d said something about her and referred to her as “the woman on the money.”

Everybody laughed. I wished they hadn’t. I was very embarrassed. Why didn’t I call her the Queen? I didn’t know why I’d said it that way. I still don’t know. Maybe, in my anxiety-ridden youth, I was afraid to say that it was the Queen on the money, because I thought it was, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe the image was actually of some Canadian politician, or historical figure, and I didn’t want to seem like an ignorant little shit. So instead, I… sounded like an ignorant little shit.

Yesterday, while discussing the whole event, my partner said, “I guess our money will change now.”

And it hit me. She wouldn’t be the woman on the money anymore.

She’d been the woman on the money for my whole life up to this point.

She was the woman on the money for the entirety of my parents’ lives.

She was the woman on the money for most of my grandparents’ lives.

And that’s not nothing.

But my partner was right. Our money will very likely change in appearance. And that’s weirdly a good analogue for Elizabeth’s death for many people here.

It’s a big thing, that will mean almost nothing in the practicalities of life, but for a while there will be a huge reminder for people that something changed.

Our current paper money (okay, our plastic money, technically) will end up being kept by a lot of people as souvenirs. Our money has changed a few times over the course of my life. We switched from paper to plastic money many years ago, and our old paper money became souvenirs, a snapshot of a part of life that wasn’t really there anymore. When we switched from a $2 bill to a $2 coin, people kept the old bills as souvenirs too. The money we spend today is likely going to go into someone’s collection of random souvenirs.

“You’re too young to remember, but this is what money looked like when you were young.”

But that brings me to another point. For many people, changing the appearance of money is likely going to be their first time really grappling with Canada being part of the Commonwealth. Because for most people alive here, including all the folks who make the big decisions, she’s been the woman on their money for all their lives too. It was just… a thing that was. No need to think about it.

Until it comes time to think about it. Because change is going to happen.

Which might make people wonder if there’s any point in staying part of the Commonwealth at all.

Why should our money have the likeness of another country’s monarch?

Maybe that will happen, maybe it won’t. But whether it does or not, the changing money will be a reminder to everyone for a long while that something changed, even if it doesn’t make one bit of practical difference. Money will still get spent. Classes will be attended, jobs will be worked, food will be eaten, and life will go on.

But that change will be a little stab of reminder. Change happened.

I promise to do my best,
To do my duty
To God, the Queen, and my country.
To help other people every day
Especially those at home.

When I was a child, I was in Brownies. (If you’ve never heard of Brownies before, it was basically Girl Guides, but for younger girls. Get together, sing songs, make friends, play games, earn merit badges, the whole shebang. But the above quote was something we said at every meeting. The words didn’t mean a damn thing to me back then. I was 7 years old. They were just words. I didn’t understand the concept of God, or a Queen, or a country. I knew I was from England, and I lived in Canada, and those places were different, but that’s about as far as my real understanding went. I was a kid. Canada was a place that wasn’t England, where everyone had a different accent that I had to learn to speak with to avoid bullying, and I probably hadn’t even heard of it before finding out that I was moving there. But what makes a country? What makes a Queen?

Hell if I knew.

My parents were sure I was saying the pledge wrong, by the way. What I said didn’t make sense to them. No, the correct words must be, “To do my duty to guard the Queen and my country.” Why throw God in there? That’s just silliness.

I don’t know if they still say that pledge at Brownie meetings. But if they do, that’s going to change too. “To God, the King, and my country.” There will be some confused little girls wondering why they learned how to say the pledge but now it’s changing and they have to remember to change what they memorized so proudly.

It’s another of those little things that demonstrates just how much Elizabeth was part of peoples’ lives here. Small things, but a dozen little bits that sunk into our collective culture and just seemed like another of those “just how it is” things.

It doesn’t really matter whether you loved or hated Elizabeth, or monarchs, or politics in general. Our lives are steeped in these things, to the point where we don’t notice them anymore because they all just meld into a background of normality. Even people who aren’t mourning her specifically might end up mourning their normality when a lot of these small things change and they have to make a conscious effort to keep up.

Queen Elizabeth II passed away yesterday.

4 generations of people grew up with her as the woman on the money.

And that’s not nothing.

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