177,999 people and one queen

According to the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, about 178,000 people die each day around the world.  That's 65 million/year, 7,425/hour, or 120/minute.  Those with living friends and relatives are mourned to varying degrees, and their burial rituals are often prescribed by the deceased's religion.  Those who die alone, without loved ones or friends at their side, are generally laid to rest beneath the Earth they walked on or reduced to ashes with few mourners to view the ceremony.

The headstones that memorialize them are inscribed with two dates, separated by a dash, and it's that dash — the space between birth and death — that contains their contribution to those around them.  Some lived in anonymity, apart from society, preferring solitude to the company of others.  Some lived in the minimum zone, where contact with the outside world was sparse.  Either way, each life meant something to all of us by the ripple effect that all lives produce.  That is not only a religious belief, but it is also one shared by scientists who understand that, as in Newton's Third Law of Motion, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," our lives have an impact of sometimes indeterminate nature, but an impact nevertheless on those around us and the society in which we live.

Newton's Physical Law of Gravity also states that "an object attracts another object in direct proportion to their combined mass and inversely related to the square of the distance between them."  Think of that when you think of the impact the death of someone who has had enormous influence because of his station in life, profession, or wealth, or someone who is in the public eye every time he makes a move.

No comparison to human life would be complete without the concept called the Law of Conservation and Mass, espoused by Einstein and many other physicists.  Simply put, "matter can change form through physical and chemical changes, but through any of these changes, matter is conserved.  The same amount of matter exists before and after the change; none is created or destroyed."

These laws or concepts present us with choices.  Should we believe in the divine nature of mankind and the "soul," or should we take the scientists' route and accept the non-Heaven answer about life and death — that all life always was and always will be, just not in the same form, and that we are governed by undeniable natural laws that empower (some would say "reduce") all living things to atoms, which are constantly being recombined?

Whichever you choose to believe about the deaths of the 178,000 people who will die today, I ask you to consider a real-world example of how one person's actions and choices over the course of a long life can influence millions of people.  I'm speaking of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England, who died at the age of 96 last week.  As sovereign, she ruled over her people for 70 years, and during that time, she made innumerable choices — choices that impacted the lives not only of her own nation, but of the Commonwealth of Nations she represented.

Don’t discount the power of love.

I lived in a former British colony for two years: the now Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, a twin-island country in the Eastern Caribbean that gained its independence in August of 1962.  I also worked in the nearby island nation of Barbados, which became independent in 1966.  Both countries stayed members of the Commonwealth, and both populations revered Queen Elizabeth and saw her as a role model and kind of "godmother" to their nations.  While there was some anti-monarchy sentiment that was rooted in Great Britain's colonial period, it was minimal, and the general population loved the queen and always welcomed her visits (Barbados in 1966 and 1975 and Trinidad in 1966, 1985, and 2009).

In the eternal empire, love conquers all.  In the earthly one, love is also a key component in governance.  As a young woman, the queen saw her father preside over the start of the end of the English empire back in August of 1947, when India gained its independence.  At that time, she was barely 21 years old, and little did she know that five years later, she would ascend the throne after the death of King George VI.

Since 1952, Queen Elizabeth displayed not only a sense of remarkable loyalty to her country and her people, but also to her "mission" to make the all-important attitudinal transition away from empire-thinking.  She did so with grace and wisdom.  Her actions over her 70-year reign have had a profound impact on the English people (and millions of others around the globe), and her quiet and respectful demeanor to her subjects ingratiated them to her.

For the rest of us non-Britons, she was a surrogate mother or grandmother.  We saw her on television off and on for all of those 70 years and watched her age.  We looked up to her as one of the last surviving representatives of the greatest generation, which embodied civility, devotion to national responsibility and compassion for others.  Her passing is the end of an era.  To put things in perspective, 94% of the world's now 7.7 billion population was born after Elizabeth became queen, and over 4.5 billion people have died since then.

There is a verse in Sanskrit that encapsulates the life of people like Elizabeth, Queen of England, and for all of us.  It is this: "Today, well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope."  And that may be the place where physics and spiritualism intersect.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in 30 countries for 25 years during the Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush administrations.  He is the author of twelve books, six of which are on American politics and has written over 1,200 articles on politics, economics, and social trends.  He operates a political news story aggregator website, www.projectpushback.com.  He can be reached at stephan@stephanhelgesen.com.

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