Why does the Queen always carry that purse?
A friend was telling me at brunch on Sunday that he and his wife had been honored, on a recent trip to London, to be welcomed to Buckingham Palace. They were part of a larger church group. Ken said the Queen came in and worked the room, walking to each person and greeting them personally.
“You know why the Queen always carries a purse?” Ken asked. I figured it must be some state secret, and not just a repository for HM’s lipstick. “Is it where she keeps the nuclear codes?” I said, before remembering that was the Prime Minister’s prerogative. “No,” Ken said, “I found out while I was there that the Queen uses her purse as a signal. When she’s done with an event and wants to leave, she switches her purse from her left arm to her right arm. That’s the signal to her handlers to come fetch her and spirit her out of the situation.”
How lovely. I want a magic purse like that. Don’t we all?
Everybody wants to be rescued from uncomfortable situations. When I’m in a low-grade fight with Pam and we’re riding in the car, in silence—that’s when I want a magic purse. When the family is home for the holidays and, after day three, the tension over what movie we’re all going to see is unbearable—I want the purse. When I am feeling low, when I am struggling, when nothing I’m doing seems great or successful or amazing, then I just want to escape. Go live another life somewhere, anywhere but here, with these people.
All suffering is essentially this: you are not in control. You can’t manage it all and make it come out “right.” That’s when we fantasize about the magic purse. Escape. St. Paul, who knew his share of trouble, writes, “We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3). That word “endurance” is an English translation of the Greek word hypomone, from hypo “under” and meno “remain.” It means, literally, to remain under.
I’m not sure of many things, but I’m sure of this. All human growth comes from hypomone, from remaining under when you want to escape. You have to stay in there when you’re not getting your way, you’re not being “heard” or appreciated or listened to, when people can’t see what is so obviously right to you! If you can stay with that tension—remain under—you find, gradually, that there is a power within you that is able to hold the tension even when you can’t, can hold together opposites without needing to prove one right and one wrong. It just holds them, and it’s all right.
Isn’t it remarkable? The one essential key to human growth is not anything esoteric at all. It is no less hard for being simple, but it is simple. Endure. That’s all. Forget Queenie’s purse. Hypomone.