Shortly after Prince Phillip died, his descendants were tallied up as key contributions to the royal future. We see photographs of the prince in earlier times, surrounded by progeny, standing literally in front of a fortress.
Finding an appropriate metaphor to describe similarities and differences between not having kids and having them is challenging. I’ve compared cupcakes to layer cakes, side channels to the mainstream, paths to highways. Each attempt leaves me wanting.
What about this one?
Most people live within a fortress of family and within eyesight of neighboring fortresses, in community with clans linked by lineage. Inside fortress walls, bridges raised, it’s close, secure, and familiar. Sometimes emotions erupt and spats spark between occupants, yet blood binds their connection.
Others live outside the fortress walls, unaccompanied by a cadre of kids. They are wandering mistrals, explorers, and sages who travel the land and live differently than those within the fortress walls.
These others may form bands of like-minded travelers, for a time or a lifetime, sharing interests and endeavors instead of ever-expanding bloodlines and traditions.
Fortresses are imposing, and the travelers stand outside the walls, weighing whether they’ll find welcome, warmth, and respite. Some fortress-dwellers level armaments at outsiders, ready to defend against the perceived interlopers. Others open their doors wide, welcoming news of diverse worlds outside, interested in hearing stories and tasting exotic flavors not offered within the compound.
Most of the travelers come in peace, hoping for contact with a larger community or to find something that can’t be easily procured on the outside. They pose no threat, come not to steal stores, spouses, or youngsters.
They know they can appear foreign, with habits, liaisons, and lifestyles at odds with the majority.
Family dynasties can be daunting when you live on the fringes. Even with no desire to live within its walls, the fortress of family urges you to fit in. Without adding to the bloodline, though, your place is precarious and lacks safety in numbers.
Is the song of the mistral any less sweet without a child in tow? Is the texture of unfamiliar pastry any less tender? Or a discovery in the night sky any less celestial?
I do not begrudge the prince his lineage, nor do I resent the bond between my siblings, nieces, and nephews. Likewise, my own standing is undiminished because I do not have children to whom I will leave a biologic legacy.
My contributions and those of others similarly situated provide diversity in the world we share, each contributing crucial elements to worlds beyond fortresses.
Queen Elizabeth seems to understand this. Her choice to sit alone during her husband’s funeral was striking. In so doing, she personified the singular universality of loss, regardless of whether one is solo, partnered, or childed.