Stories play a prominent role in my life, both as a storyteller and a lover of a good yarn.

It’s how I experience the past and form attachments to people I never had the privilege to meet in person. Storytellers play a prominent role in how we recall events and know how to make us care about people by building an emotional bridge to them. Turning a real person into a character in a story allows us to get to know them (assuming the story is in any way accurate). Stories have great power to reinforce or tear down our assumptions about historical figures.

I first came to “know” Queen Elizabeth through a story—the film The Queen, which depicts the events after Princess Diana’s death. I felt so drawn to this quiet, dignified, emotionally reserved woman, I bought and read a biography about her and learned all about her extraordinary life, from her service during World War II to her remarkable relationships with her Prime Ministers. It was not the first time a movie made me crack open a biography about her family, either. The King’s Speech depicted her uncle’s abdication and her father’s inspiring friendship with Lionel Logue, the man who taught him how to overcome his stammer. And the BBC miniseries, The Lost Prince, made me cry over her epileptic uncle, who died in his teen years; seen as a “shameful secret” due to his “fits,” the family kept him hidden from the public eye. It also gave us a brief glimpse of their glamorous Russian cousins, the Romanoff family, who would, a few years later, get slaughtered in the Russian Revolution.

It’s hard as Americans to wrap our minds around 1,200 years of British rule. Of those 61 monarchs, Elizabeth II had the longest reign, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Victoria. We all know she lived through WWII, the repealing of segregation laws, the evolution of the British Commonwealth, the moon landing, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. She was the first British monarch in history to visit Ireland and to address a joint session of Congress. And every James Bond, from the first book to the latest movie, has served under Her Majesty.

But what is her longevity and significance in terms of American history? How do we frame her reign in a way that makes sense to us as a “young” nation? I am glad you asked. To get a grasp of her scope, she was born before Laura Ingalls Wilder published her Little House on the Prairie books, and before Wyatt Earp died. These two monuments of our American history and figureheads of the untamed west were still alive during her lifetime. She was born during Prohibition in the United States, when Al Capone was still around and before bank robbers “Bonnie and Clyde” started their murder spree.

She was Queen for over a fourth of our time as an independent nation, and met fourteen of our presidents, starting with Harry Truman, which means she encountered almost a third of all US Presidents in history. By the time of her coronation, our map did not have 50 stars on it; we had not yet given Hawaii or Alaska Statehood. 86% of our population wasn’t even born when she became Queen, and only 8% of Americans are old enough to remember her coronation.

That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Elizabeth broke royal protocol twice to show solidarity with America. In England, they only ring the tenor bell of Westminster following the death of a member of the royal family. She had them rung for an hour and lowered the British flags after President Kennedy’s assassination. She broke a 600 year British royal tradition by having the royal band play The Star-Spangled Banner during a changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace the day after 9/11.

Though there are many stories of her interactions with Americans, one of my favorites is this one, which shows her sly sense of humor. One day, while driving with her bodyguard in Scotland, she stopped to offer a lift to two rain-drenched hikers. The American tourists didn’t recognize her and asked if she lived locally; she said no, but that she had a holiday home nearby. One of them asked if she’d ever met the Queen. She said, “No, but he has,” and pointed to her bodyguard!

If not for my love of stories, and the willingness of people to tell them, I might never have read about this remarkable monarch long before her passing, who I came to respect as someone of deep personal integrity, honor, and duty. She did not want to be Queen but rose to the challenge and brought dignity to her role. She was a living monument to a more prudent, private, and noble era, as well as a loving mother and grandmother.

For several weeks after her death, The Crown, a fictionalized depiction of her reign, started trending on Netflix, as I, along with millions of other Americans, revisited the series and marveled at her remarkable life. It’s not true in all its details, but it’s true enough to make the audience feel as if we know her, and that makes her loss feel personal in a way. The world will go on without her, but never forget her. One of the things we will remember her for is her sense of duty, which is a rare trait. She also dealt with problems calmly and with dignity, a lesson many of us could benefit from, as we rush about our busy lives and sometimes find ourselves offended or upset about things that do not matter in the long term. I once heard a wonderful piece of advice from a therapist-author. She said, “When you find yourself getting upset, take a deep breath and ask yourself if in a year from now, this will still matter. If the answer is no, let it go.” There’s nothing wrong with strong emotional reactions, but if our ambition is to live a peaceful life, we can’t be a powder keg.

Find what makes you happy and do that. Avoid what makes you unhappy, while still doing your duty to yourself and to others. The Queen taught me that. In her honor, I intend to do my duty, and “keep calm and carry on.” ♦