A reflection on the surreal experience of watching history unfold in real time

From Queen Elizabeth's funeral to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the past couple of years have thrown up several history-making moments

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It’s been a strange week to be British, and it’s been an especially strange week to be a Brit living abroad.

On Monday, I, like so many millions around the world, watched as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, was laid to rest.

As the crowds gathered and members of the armed forces lined up pristinely, ready for the biggest show of pride and pomp Britain has displayed in my lifetime, I sat on the sofa of my Dubai apartment, like I do most other days, glued to the television.

But of course, Monday was not like most other days. It was one of those days that will remain ingrained in my memory for the rest of my life. A day that will undoubtedly spark many conversations across many generations for decades to come. One of those rare “I remember where I was when” moments with which we will bore our children, and their children after that, just as our parents and grandparents have done so many times with us.

It’s a surreal thing, watching history unfold in real time. Trying to simultaneously take in the magnitude of what you are witnessing, while being present in the moment, while also being part of a wider conversation happening around the events.

It also left me trying to process the strange sense of patriotism it roused within that I wasn’t entirely sure I knew was even there, something I know many other Brits experienced ― royalists or not.

Life is scattered with several of these “where were you?” moments, that will at some stage or another stop us all in our tracks. September 11, for example: I was off school sick that day, aged 10, and I remember the cartoon I was watching being interrupted with the breaking news bulletin as my mum stood behind me in disbelief.

When I ask my colleague if she remembers where she was, she tells me instantly: she was in a cramped hotel room in Bahrain, aged 15, shortly after moving to the country.

And it feels like the past few years will have sparked a particularly interesting period in history, as we all endured a global pandemic. Only now, as we come out the other side, have I been able to look back and truly appreciate the gravity of it all, and understand that in years to come, these will be the moments people read about in school, in the same way we did with diseases and viruses of the past.

Naturally, the nature of these huge moments are usually not pleasant ― death, tragedy, shock ― but often, they bring people all over the world together as they experience a shared emotion.

And Monday was certainly one of those days that will always stand out for me. I might have spent it sitting on my sofa like any other Monday, but it was a day that will remain etched in my brain ― and the history books.

Updated: September 23, 2022, 6:02 PM
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