A confession: I did not get up early to watch the Queen’s funeral. I did scroll through the pictures and videos later in the day (a second confession: I wanted to see what Kate and Meghan wore). So, this is not a blog about that beautiful and precise liturgy; it’s not a blog about monarchy and colonialism; it’s not even about Queen Elizabeth. Since the announcement of her death and the ascension of Charles, I’ve been thinking about a line from a poem, “Kings never touch doors.”
The poem, “The Pleasures of the Door,” is by Francis Ponge, and I have a framed copy of the translation by C. K. Williams on a shelf in our family room. And the reason for this peculiar bit of shelf-filler is that when my kids were little, one of them absolutely loved to open and shut doors. Opening and closing doors all day long, risking fingers by slamming them, playing peek-a-boo with his brother or anyone – including the dog, giggling with delight seemingly every time he opened the door again. How in the world could he derive so much pleasure? Ponge suggests that it’s the grand possibility of a door, a barrier easily removed, new vistas revealed, down to the satisfying “click of the well-oiled latch.”
But the poet reminds us at the opening, “Kings (and queens) never touch doors.” Someone opens every door for them. They are honored in this way, but they are also denied a simple pleasure at the same time. It’s curious. I could get lost in wondering what it would be like to live a life in a palace and this week’s non-stop-coverage of British royal life has in many ways been a welcome distraction to ordinary and extraordinary worries of our lives of late. Yet, as much as I may be entranced by some of the pomp and circumstance, I find I am just as likely to rejoice in the fact that no one is hiring a lip-reading expert to figure out what my children are saying as they walk into church. And I’m even more grateful that in my own moments of grief, I can respond based on how I feel rather than within the trappings of protocol.
It’s a funny thing: bubbles and protection. I think I want them. I think I might want to be driven everywhere and insulated from the rough and tumble world. I think I might like a castle with a moat. But the thing is, I like driving. I like opening and closing doors. And this puts me back into the world with all its chaotic fellow travelers. This means that I open doors and see things I wish I hadn’t seen sometimes, and sometimes giggle with delight at what is revealed. This means people see me when I ugly-cry. This also means that I get to see the first leaves starting to change and bump into a friendly stranger waiting for my Starbucks order.
Being royalty seems lonely. Believing that I could seal myself up from the unpredictable world and in so doing find peace is a false hope. One of the most beautiful, true things I know is that God came all the way into the world to bump into us, to get hurt, to delight in the change of season, to love us up close in a messy, defiantly un-protocoled way, and to open some doors.
“The Pleasures of the Door,” Francis Ponge (translated by C.K. Williams)
Kings never touch doors.
They’re not familiar with this happiness: to push, gently or roughly before you one of these great, friendly panels, to turn towards it to put it back in place—to hold a door in your arms.
The happiness of seizing one of these tall barriers to a room by the porcelain knob of its belly; this quick hand-to-hand, during which your progress slows for a moment, your eye opens up and your whole body adapts to its new apartment.
With a friendly hand you hold on a bit longer, before firmly pushing it back and shutting yourself in—of which you are agreeably assured by the click of the powerful, well-oiled latch.