Can you identify the baby in this picture?
Photo from the Associated Press
It may be a challenge for those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, but this is a photo of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, who on this day celebrates her Diamond Jubilee as Queen Elizabeth II. The Jubilee marks 60 years on the throne for this 85 year old monarch, making her the longest reigning British monarch since Queen Victoria.
Long life is something for which we all hope. We want our years to be measured in decades, spanning generations of children, grandchildren, and, for the very fortunate, great-grandchildren. Those who live into their 90’s or 100’s become front row observers of history as it unfolds. If there is a longevity gene, most of us would love to have it!
What is striking about Elizabeth, however, cannot be measured by the number of her birthdays or even the years of her long reign. Consider this:
Her first public broadcast when she was 14 years old was aimed at reassuring children who had been evacuated due to bombings: “We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger and sadness of war. We know every one of us, that in the end all will be well.”
When she was still a teenager, Elizabeth began serving her country by joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service, a branch of the army during World War II. She trained as a truck driver and mechanic.
In Southern Africa on her 21st birthday, the princess solemnized the milestone by pledging to her country: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
When she married in 1947, she used ration coupons to gather enough material for her wedding gown.
She survived an assassination attempt in 1981 and held a bedroom intruder at bay for seven minutes in 1982 until help arrived.
In 1992, which Elizabeth called her “annus horribilis” (the horrible year), she endured public scorn over family scandals, had eggs thrown at her at a public gathering, suffered withering criticism about royal expenditures, and saw the destruction of Windsor Castle by fire. In a public speech in which she might have excoriated the press for their relentless mockery of the family and their troubles, she accepted the criticism and appealed that it be moderated with “a touch of humour, gentleness and understanding”.
In 2000, she uncharacteristically expressed her personal faith convictions: “To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”
This week, in recognition of the beginning of the Jubilee activities, Elizabeth renewed the pledge of service which she first made as a 21 year old: “In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighborliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign.
Long life is a gift. Long life in service to others is a calling. Long life that rises above hardship, errors, heartbreak, and criticism with a magnanimous spirit that affirms “the power of togetherness” and the strength of family, friendship and good neighborliness, is an inspiration.