When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told the universe they want a more independent lifestyle with greater financial independence (which at first read of their nearly Fortune 500 annual report-like statement sounds almost too American of a sentiment to be voiced by members of the British royal family), I imagined Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II shaking her handbag and shouting up a regal red-carpeted staircase something like, “As long as you two live under my Frogmore Cottage roof, you’ll live by my bloody rules.”
Then this American quickly realized that only a martini-sloshing Princess Margaret-type character portrayed in “The Crown” would do something of that sort.
In the wake of the earthquake crassly called “Megxit” on social media and in British tabloid headline writing cubes, more than a few people have said Harry and Meghan ought to renounce their titles, all public monies, as well as the duke’s place in the line of succession and use the money Harry inherited from Princess Diana and the Queen Mother (along with any funds they may still receive from Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall revenues) to live in a modern turreted manse in a posh Toronto neighborhood. Some have suggested the couple ought to shut the hell up, learn to live gratefully and gracefully under the queen’s rules and roof, and accept with two stiff upper lips the cruelty and racism directed toward the duchess by some of the British media and people. Some have suggested things one can’t mention in decent society.
No matter what one thinks (or doesn’t) about the Sussexes, much of what the duke and duchess will or won’t do won’t change the lives for the vast majority of us. Whatever comes out of the summit the queen called to sort out the Sussex problem really only concerns the British people and how they feel about having, and contributing to, an inherited monarchy of any type, along with its enormous system of riches and often bizarre restrictions and customs.
However, even for those who are not British and could care less than nothing about the royal family, I think there are issues worth observing in Harry and Meghan’s quest for freedom. Even in a world wracked with pain, sorrow, war, and an impeached U.S. president.
When I first heard Harry and Meghan’s cry for greater freedom, I couldn’t help but think about a high school classmate of mine, a girl whose family had a longstanding successful business she was expected to join the day after she received her diploma. No matter her wish to attend college to study accounting, leave our Milwaukee hometown, or do most anything else one might desire to do after finishing high school. When I saw my friend some 25 years after graduation, she said she loved her life. I hope she wasn’t pretending.
Despite the exhortations of highly paid motivational speakers and television ads featuring people ditching lucrative jobs to bake cakes, we still do not live in a world where absolutely everyone can chart their own destiny. This includes the masses who don’t have anywhere near the money or top drawer contacts the duke and duchess will possess no matter where they end up.
Because on the far extreme of the life choices spectrum, women and girls are still killed in too many parts of the world for choosing to marry someone outside their religion, village or ethnic background. Or for wanting to go to school or not dress according to certain religious customs. People all over this planet are still disowned by their families for not joining family businesses, marrying someone “different,” or moving outside the town in which they grew up. My own father faced what he believed would be estrangement from his parents if he didn’t build a house next door. He did build that house next door and my mother lived guardedly with that decision for 16 years.
Still, money, ruled roofs, shaking handbags and all that royal glamour aside, I do think it is very difficult for most of us to accept the idea that anyone (including, yes, the duke and duchess) must live a certain life only because one was born into it. Even if that life is one of incredibly cosseted privilege, as is the case for Harry and Meghan. I’m sure I think this way because I’m lucky enough to have been able to choose my own life path.
And so, if the Sussexes do obtain the queen’s approval to pack their bags and set off to earn a freer, financially independent life in the land of peace, order and good government known as Canada, they may want to very carefully consider this warning from the 18th century philosopher and revolutionary, the British-born, American-by-choice, Thomas Paine.
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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