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Thursday 25 September 2008

True Beauty

The most striking aspect of Grand Duchess Elizabeth has always been for me, her natural inclination to create beauty in everything. Renowned as 'the most beautiful princess in Europe', far from being possessive about that gift, she used it to the full both for herself and for others. When young, she paid great attention to her appearance; as time passed, that beauty went deeper and deeper and culminated in bringing beauty into the most 'ugly' places - into slums and hovels, into lives devoid of dignity, and into a world thrown into confusion by murder and war.

Now, more than at any other time in history, I believe that message is vital. We have made such advances in technology and science - wonderful advances, bringing people together - but I cannot help but feel sometimes that, along the way, we have forgotten the true meaning of beauty. One only need browse the shelves of video shops to see how many films are made about destruction and violence - 'action films' they are called. One only need glance at billboards or watch a couple of adverts to see how beauty is narrowed down to some designers' ideas of how we should all look, what we should wear....what beauty means.

I live near a wood filled with ancient trees, beside which is a new wood planted for the millennium. To see the young trees growing so quickly is amazing! To see the ancient trees with their gnarled roots, their twisted and heavily-laded branches, the marks in the bark, the intertwining of their limbs is truly breath-taking. Not one tree quite resembles another. Yet, there they all stand having absorbed centuries of wisdom and their beauty is ineffable. They don't fit a pattern. They don't do anything in the way of 'action'. But, strong and solid, they sometimes seem to me to have watched and listened and absorbed centuries of thoughts of passers-by, like me, and they are truly uplifting.

There is, I think, a beauty that doesn't ever try to be anything other than itself at its very best. I think Ella knew that so deeply and, unlike Rasputin, who felt a need to debase people in order to destroy their pride, she simply drew that loveliness from others.

In the midst of financial crises, toppling of governments and ending of empires; in the midst of turmoil in politics and the power-seeking scare-mongering of some politicians, true beauty cannot be destroyed. It is. And, like the ancient trees growing happily beside the newer woods, it simply continues because it is real. And reality is eternal.

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