QUEEN Elizabeth II will be 80 tomorrow, in the 54th year of her reign, a period remarkable both for its longevity and the human history along the way.
The queen's birthday is officially celebrated on the third Saturday of June each year - this year June 17 - but the world today joins the United Kingdom in paying tribute to her as a person on her real birthday.
Having lived that long and through a cataclysmic period of history, her story and that of her family have been part of the background of the lives of all Americans for seven decades now. Her father became king as George VI in 1936 and Elizabeth, his oldest child, became the highly visible successor to the throne at that point.
The life of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor became in part the story of our times. In uniform, as a teenager, she drove an ambulance during the dark, somber days of World War II in England. As a young bride in 1947 her marriage to the dashing Prince Philip was a ray of light in war-damaged post-war Britain that indicated recovery and hopes of future prosperity.
The ups and downs of her sometimes troubled family over the years in some ways illustrated some of the social problems of our era.
The divorces were probably the worst of all. Every parent probably wants nothing more than happy marriages for his or her children.
The marriage of her son Charles to Lady Diana made people's hearts soar; the failure of that unfortunate relationship and the ultimate death of Diana in a horrifying car crash made people's hearts bleed for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.
Their characteristically British stiff upper lips in the face of the tragedy drew British fire to the monarchy and to the royals, who were going through a particularly bad patch of irresponsible behavior.
The queen was accused of coldness and indifference, but there is no doubt that as monarch, Elizabeth has always seemed to keep personal matters from affecting her official demeanor - unflappable in the face of national, international, or personal adversity.
The queen in principle has no political role in governing the United Kingdom. But the British monarch stands in the background behind the government and prime minister, whoever that might be, just in case. It is unlikely that the queen or king of England would ever be called upon to sort out political problems the way, say, the king of Thailand sometimes does, with quarreling politicians on their knees in front of him, faces pressed to the floor.
At the same time, it is not a bad thing in terms of long-term British stability that the queen does have an official role to play, albeit largely symbolic.
The queen has made it clear that her reign will not end with abdication or retirement, only with death or disability. That puts Prince Charles, 57, on the spot as he advances well past middle age. But on the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, we can only wish her a very happy birthday and many more to come.