published Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

David Cook: My kingdom for a car

In what has to be a new low point in kingly history, scientists in England identified King Richard III’s remains last week.

Excavated, rather disgracefully, from underneath a parking lot.

Of all places.

“My car, my car, my kingdom for a car,” posted friend Emma Williams, quite perfectly, on Facebook.

It was a moving image: once England’s most powerful man entombed beneath a Leicester parking lot.

Speed bumps. Parking meters. The former King of England.

(CARTA would have surely ticketed him.)

This means something, but I’m not quite entirely sure what.

Could it be a commentary on urban sprawl? A from-the-grave caution to slow and make sure we actually don’t pave over paradise with a parking lot?

A reflection of our post-post-modern-ness, which values so little to the point that even kings are asphalted over?

Or an early Lenten reflection on the shortness of life: all of us, even royalty, reduced to nothing? Ashes to ashes, bumpers to dust.

I thought of King Richard on Sunday night, watching Lord Grantham twist and turn between the old established order of the 19th century and the brave new world of the 20th.

Sunday’s “Downton Abbey’’ was like a jittery time machine. As Downton and all it represents tries to make sense of 20th-century shaky ground, the episode was crammed full with social issues:

Gay rights. The voice of the modern women. Adultery and swingin’ nightclubs. The role of agriculture.

Patriarch Lord Grantham has just lost his youngest daughter, nearly lost his estate, and now feels like he’s losing his sense of the world. His mid-life crisis: How do I fit into a changing world?

We may know the feeling.

Even though the issues he struggles with seem so ho-hum obvious to us (should he allow his daughter to become — gasp! — a columnist?), we still can feel the same angst. It’s like one big Mad Lib. Just erase the 1920 issue and write in whatever it is we’re worried about today.

The times, as Dylan sorta said, are always changin’.

Just look at Rome. News from the Vatican surprised millions of Catholics on Monday as, for the first time in six centuries, the sitting pope is stepping down, abdicating his power.

Apparently, the pope is in poor health. (Note to Vatican: Next time, appoint someone a bit sprier than 78 years old and this won’t happen.)

So, how will people feel if, finally, the next Pope is African? Or from central America? Will they celebrate? Or faint?

Life seems to barrel out of our control, and what used to be in one spot has now moved, maybe never to return. This is the existential angst of Lord Grantham, and us all. Where do we fit?

Which brings us back to King Richard III.

Had you ever told Richard he would one day be reduced to parking lot rubble, he would have laughed. And then cut off your head.

“Now is the car park of our discontent,” Williams further posted.

We think we are invincible, that the world spins for us. Kings, aristocrats, even you and me.

“Made glorious summer by this sun bouncing off the windscreen,” Williams wrote.

Yet sooner or later, even the mightiest realize such is folly. Death, the great equalizer.

“And all the clouds that lour’d upon our metal roofs,” she continued.

Perhaps our hope is to just take one day at a time. Only this. Chop our wood, carry our water. Enjoy what is before us, for not even the swallows are forgotten.

“In the deep bosom of the tarmac buried.”

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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