Meeting a Queen

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Whenever someone back in the US finds out that I live in London, they immeadently want to know one thing:

 

“Oh, have you met the queen?”

 

I used to think that this was an example of our Anglophila at work. England still brings up dreams of castles and glass slippers. All very Walt Disney if you ask me, but Disney built his own empire on it so I suppose I can’t really be suprised by the appeal. Then I began to realize that sometimes their questions had a sort of sneer about it, as if the idea of living in England deserved cynacisim and spite because all I did here in the  UK wait for Prince Charming and watch mice clean my room. Now I hear  the question asked with a whole range of tones, each with its very own subtext and assumptions. But the words remain the same.

 

Up until last month I would reply that I’ve seen her in a variety of circumstances, driving by in a car mostly, and she looked like just about any other grandmother in the world just with a handbag and a hat that matches.

 

And then came last month when she walked right in front of my bedroom window.

 

She was going down to the end of our dock, to inaugurate a new boat, the Gloriana, which would carry her down the river during her Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Why they chose our little run down and slightly dilapidated dock I’m still unsure. I love Greenland Dock as its the place where I board the Clipper to commute into town everyday. But it never really struck me as a place for a queen to board a gilded vessel.

 

The night before she was due to arrive, the boys at the pub were buzzing with discussions. Many of them are professional photographers and thus the discussions turned to who was bringing what lens  and would it better to bring an SLR or just keep it digital. You get a certain amount of alcohol in these men and they make their views about the royals very well known, but not now. Tonight, even their combative behavior is stifled and they seem to be like small boys preparing to meet someone very great. Their eyes sparkle.

 

“You’re coming, right Athena? We need to use your chair as  a tripod. Saves me from having to carry mine.” The Queen of England walking down my street? I wouldn’t miss it  for the world.

 

By the time Her Royal Highness rolls down my neighbourhood street we’ve been waiting  in the rain for about an hour. I joke with another American that, didn’t we fight a revolution to avoid freezing our bums off in the cold? But then the royal Land Rover pulls  up in front of my building (I had no idea Queen Lizzie liked SUVs so much) and first tumbles out Prince Philip looking just a tad confused, and then the queen gracefully puts one foot on the street and  then the other. For a moment all I can see are her shoes, red pumps, and then she steps out from behind the car door.

 

Instantly I become a sort  of camera tree, my friends looping and throwing their Nikons and Cannons over various bits of my wheelchair. Their lenses follow her from the car, to the dock, to the waterside, where the burgundy boat trimmed in gold and propelled by forty men rowing awaits her. She is perfectly measured in her steps, holding herself with a sort of serious restraint and being careful of even where her eyes landed.

 

“She’s coming back,” one of my friends says as he removes the gigantic telephoto lens from the camera. I look at him, slightly stunned because, as far as I know, this was never part of the plan. “She has to be leaving by car. If the queen was being rowed away from Greenland Dock to Greenwich it would be a very public event. She’s walking back  up to the pier I promise you.”

 

Sure enough, a few minutes later, the boat pulls away and she’s coming back to the top of the dock. Much of the crowd has disappeared at this point and its a few locals in the neighborhood who’ve stuck around in the miserable rain to chat and review the photos they’ve taken. Out of the  greyness of the day, a small girl appears, about five or six years old, holding a bouquet of brightly colored tulips. As she approaches the queen, my friends grab their cameras again. She holds the flowers up to the woman, unaware really of who this queen is, what she has seen in the past six decades, or the pressure it  takes to be a head of state. Instantly there is a change that comes across the queen’s face. Many of the cynics will say the gesture was rehearsed and that it is easy to receive flowers from a child. But, in that moment, being handed vibrant colored flowers on a grey day, the queen looked like a woman. Her face lit up the way any woman’s face changes when she is presented with an item of great beauty.

 

The is an inherent grace that any woman has that isn’t dependent on status or upbringing. Rather, it is the ability to recognize beauty in just about any situation, that gives women the ability to suddenly shine brighter than any birthright or lineage. The transition I saw was that from head of state, to a true queen within the simplest of moments, and yet the alteration was greater than any amount of wealth or breeding could bring on.

 

Within a few seconds she was in her car, doors closed, and being driven away, making the whole thing seem very surreal. In my mind I could hear the echoes of the question I get asked all the time in the states either out of spite or a genuine yearning.

 

Yes, I have met the queen. If you look hard enough,you’ll come across queens everyday.

Aware of the Rest

Monday, January 03, 2011

I believe firmly in the power of the individual. That’s not a particularly popular statement to say these days. We are told over and over by our world that it is best if we don’t think of the self, but rather what we can do to help the world as a whole and focus on others rather than just ourselves. While this altruistic theory is admirable it forgets one key thing…often it takes the individual in all of his uniqueness in refusing to settle for the status quo that can ultimately improve circumstances for everyone.

A friend once told me, “It is the person who is aware that he has more advantages than those around him who can use those same advantages to change the world for the people who lack them.” I believe what he meant was, that one cannot be afraid to hide one’s talents and to stand out in a crowd by doing the best that one absolutely can when some of those around him are unable to perform at the same level. Furthermore what he meant was, a social leader (someone who is truly capable of bettering the world and changing conditions for everyone) must carefully balance along a philosophical tightrope. One hand hovering over self understanding and the other reaching for how he can use his best qualities to aid the situation he finds himself in. In short, perhaps the industrialists of the 20th century weren’t so far off when they insisted loudly over and over again that the cream that rises to the top sweetens all of the milk.

To put it another way, using a biblical reference which was made famous by comic book character Uncle Ben in Spiderman: “To him whom much is given, much is expected.” It is the responsibility of the exceptionally gifted to realize where they could be and in actuality where they are, understanding the schism is how change starts. Often it takes the best educated, the most cunning, and those with the greatest skill in writing and rhetoric to attack issues of injustice. If anyone, regardless of their level of education or skill was able to attack these sentiments, it is doubtful that there would be issues of inequality in the first place. Often it is the financially blessed who have the time and energy to pull themselves full steam into social causes that would otherwise be ignored, understaffed or mishandled if left up to those who have to carry full time jobs and maintain a steady income.

In writing this I cannot help but look around and examine my own living conditions, realizing that I am indeed exceptionally blessed regardless of my struggles and even though most individuals who meet me are faced at one time or another with grappling with all that I cannot do rather than all of my positive and viable assets. While most people in my life see me as struggling, I cannot help but swallow hard when I see another disabled person in the street. Who is alone, and not provided for as I am. It forces me to realize that my struggles are like most of us, exceptionally small in comparison and an understanding that I am indeed one of the fortunate ones. One who is able to express herself and stand up in one form or another for what she believes in and who is able to take rests in between the periods when great perseverance is required. I admit that there is so much work that is yet to be done, and that those tasks include my own sacrifices as well as those of the greater collective.

Thankful, I am Thankful

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There is something immensely pleasing about running under the golden trees of autumn and watching the leaves fall. It is almost like the entire world for a moment, is showing off and becoming the absolute best that it can be. Often in the early evenings I take long walks and peer into the windows of warmly lit rooms. Inevitably, one sees families gathered around tables either doing homework or sitting down to dinner and on a particular November night; even though I am half way around the world I am reminded that this is the season to stop and give thanks, no matter where you are from, for the bounty that you receive either in the form of friends and loved ones who surround you or simply having food on your table.

Somehow Thanksgiving is always less precious than it’s stressed out holiday cousin of Christmas. You don’t hear over and over about the perfect Thanksgiving, the magical thanksgiving from childhood you always remember. Instead much of the family stress of making a day into some sort of idealized Rockwell disappears. We need only do one thing, and that is to be thankful, and while it should be the simplest thing to do, inevitably…it is not.

I sometimes think that Hallmark and other card companies must be incredibly frustrated with the holiday. They are still, despite their best efforts, unable to turn it into a manufactured reason to make money and increase their capital. There is no fairy or elf that comes along to sprinkle dust on you in the middle of the night and make you thankful for all you have been fortunate enough to receive. An image of such a creature inevitably sets me off laughing as he is somehow unimaginable. One being thankful is one action that no one can force upon you, nor can they magically impose a feeling of gratitude without your effort. Thankfulness is a choice, you choose to be thankful where you are and where you choose to be.

The duty of the holiday or the reason for the holiday is that an individual must be thankful for something, anything, and to someone. It could be that you are thankful to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for creating International Talk Like a Pirate Day; or you could be thankful to your mother because even though you are at the age of 45, she is still willing to clean you room. Be thankful to Buddha for laughing, or Christ for being crucified. What you are thankful for is immaterial. In this way the holiday is not distinctly religious, nor is it distinctly American as some social critics claim. Surely other cultures have much to be thankful for and find their own way to express gratitude to both entities or for such items. If one is unable to decide a single thing to be grateful for, then inevitably the very value of life comes into question.

A few years ago I shared Thanksgiving with a friend who absolutely dreaded the holiday. She insisted that it just seemed like pre-gaming before Christmas and one should simply celebrate the great holidays in December, leaving November to stand on its own. It’s easy to see this holiday as completely pointless; there are no gifts, there is no grand finale, and for the exception of the Macy’s Parade there is no common experience that unites the entire country together. Each family sits down to a dinner that is uniquely their own, be it a stuffed turkey and homemade cranberry sauce or macaroni and cheese. We spend time thanking each other because that is in many ways the most expensive currency we have and yet it is universal and our freedom to choose how those twenty four hours can illustrate our attitude about the things in life we treasure. If we cannot take time on such a day to be thankful, to stop and listen regardless of what goals are unmet and what desires we have that have been lost. What makes us think that we will ever be ready to receive the gifts of Christmas?

The End of Summer

Monday, September 06, 2010

When I was little, I used to love when summer was finally winding down. In June I would come home from school crying and asking, “What will I do for three whole months without school?” Back then, life followed a plan and June/July/August represented a purposeful part of that plan. Worse yet, the rhythms of the year were definite. September meant new shoes and colored pencils as I was heading back to school. Then came Christmas, Valentines Day, and when I was just beginning to give up hope, came the dreaded three months without school. Now that I have twelve months a year without school, I’m not exactly sure what the end of summer means anymore.

The truth is, without consistently being in a classroom with the dates splashed on the bulletin board, I have difficulty telling what time of year it is anymore. The holidays marked by paper cutouts with snowflakes and candy canes stapled to the wall come and go without much recognition in my own life. There aren’t spring themed words or seasonal linear graphs that turn out to be in the shape of Santa Claus. Now the months just slip by and I am surprised on October 31st, my doorbell rings and there are children asking for candy.

This of course is the crux of the change from childhood into independent adulthood. Your life is no longer well defined. You don’t have guide posts and deadlines to set. Grades, when you are a child, are a form of currency so that your first year out of college one can’t help but be a little bit confused when they hold cash in their hand rather than a report card. There is no rhythm to the seasons; there is no plan in what you are doing in your life and perhaps most disturbingly, there are no awards for perfect attendance.

If you are working in one of the creative fields such as a visual artist, actor, or writer, the situation is even worse. The days slip through your fingers as quickly as water until you realize you have spent the entire day looking at a blank computer screen and only managed to type out a few words. Here in this adult life, one is forced to quantify oneself not by merit or test grades, but by inner thoughts and actions. It’s the conversations that an individual has with themselves and the results thereof to give you an idea of their self worth. The rest of the world’s actions are justified by paychecks. When someone is an actress or writer, there is no such thing as regular paycheck and so the end of summer. As I continue to go to auditions and look at my blank screen while attempting to figure out what comes next.

Were it not for a gradual shift in weather, needing my jacket at night, pulling out the fall fashions and looking longingly through catalogues, I might not even notice the shift in seasons. This is one of the many reasons why I consider it a blessing to live in a place that has winter, spring, summer, and fall. For me the end of summer doesn’t mean the end of free time. As much as I miss the rhythm and cadence that comes from the school year, the product of it is actually a huge blessing. Western education teachers say money is the most precious form of currency, it does nothing to acknowledge the expensive nature of the economics of time, health, and happiness. I will continue to work on whatever, even if the year is ebbing away unnoticed. Nothing reminds me of that blessing now, more than the end of summer.

Last week I was watching my next door neighbor head off to her first day of school; her bright pink backpack and pigtails almost made the entire image look like a cliché rather than real life. Even though I swore I never would be, I was slightly jealous of her returning to the structure that comes at this time of year. But most of all, I was jealous of all the discoveries that lay ahead of her within her own time.

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