'Lightness of Being'
Copyright 2011 Chris Levine
(used with permission)
A few nights ago when eating with friends, someone posed an interesting question in that comfortable sort of wine-washed, post-dinner pre-pudding lull. We started talking about who we would want to meet out of anyone alive today, and after the slight grumble about instantaneous celebrity culture subsided I surprised a few people by settling on Queen Elizabeth II.
Although she might not be every 24 year-old's first choice heroine, the idea and influence of Her Majesty The Queen has crept up on me over the years and exerted a fascinating pull. Many significant anniversaries have come and gone in her reign to date, and on one of those occasions - I forget which one - I watched a documentary about her life and 'royal career'. The details have disappeared, but a lasting impression of her strong sense of duty and dedication was created. Recent years have only added to that, and as my own understanding of society has broadened I have a greater appreciation of the complexities involved in, as the official website of the British Monarchy puts it, "[reigning] through more than five decades of enormous social change and development."
I think it's that longevity that most excites admiration in me - hers is a life clearly underpinned by fidelity. Fidelity to nearly 60 years of service on the throne, with all its benefits and burdens. Fidelity to a specific faith and specific values, and to a marriage longer than some people's lifetimes. To my mind, fidelity is the most dynamic of characteristics. To be steadfastly committed to anything amidst life's twists and turns requires both a flexibility and integrity that I think is hugely underrated. To stay and learn, when you want to leave; to commit to change when you want things to stay the same; to have to rediscover what you thought you already knew: fidelity to anything isn't easy. And to live it out under the spotlight of privilege and position, with audiences sometimes hostile and often ignorant... That's a strong lady right there.
I love Chris Levine's holographic portrait 'Lightness of Being' commissioned in 2004 (above). For me, the luminous quality of the image combined with Her Majesty's closed eyes communicates a sense of quiet transcendence, humanity and strength. Listening to Levine explain how the portrait came about in an interview with The Guardian it is clear that these qualities in the portrait were captured by the artist, not created by him. The tenacity I admire in The Queen is beautifully summed up in Levine's portrait. I see an extraordinary woman closing her eyes to how she is perceived and quietly regaining strength. It's a strength that seems to be derived, not from the externals of power and status (although those exist and are represented in the grandeur of Her Majesty's clothing and jewels), but largely from the inner resourcefulness of a life lived with purpose. A strength I would love to emulate.