I had planned to run Part Two of "JBTV" in this month's "TBE." However, in light of recent events I felt it would be more appropriate to devote this issue to a woman who touched hearts not only in Britain, but all around the world.
It was 8:00 p.m.EDT on August 30. I was just sitting down at my computer when a family member suddenly announced that a TV news bulletin said Princess Diana and her companion were involved in a serious car accident in Paris. Her companion, Dodi al Fayed, was dead, and the Princess was badly injured.
This news had sad resonance. Only a few days before, my parents and I had attended the funeral of my great-uncle, who tragically died from injuries suffered in an auto accident. Although he'd received expert care at one of the finest trauma centers in the country, my great-uncle couldn't overcome his injuries.
But, he was 76. Diana was only 36, strong and healthy. Surely, she would survive.
We followed her story on the Cable News Network until it became obvious that there was no real "news"--the same sketchy details and footage of the crumpled Mercedes were being endlessly repeated. We changed the channel, occasionally switching back to CNN.
Shortly after midnight, I decided to get ready to retire. I turned the radio on to hear if any further details of Diana's condition had been released. I heard an ABC News reporter say, "Unconfirmed reports from Paris say that Princess Diana has died."
I went back downstairs in somewhat of a daze and announced, "They said on the radio that Diana died."
The TV channel was quickly changed back to CNN. Indeed, it was true. The subject banner which had read "Princess Diana Injured" now read, "Princess Diana Dead."
Impossible! The night before, we'd seen an entertainment news reporter posing in one of the dresses Diana had recently auctioned off for charity. We'd just seen the photos of "Di and Dodi" vacationing in the Mediterranean. And, wasn't Diana just at Gianni Versace's funeral, consoling a grieving Elton John? And, hadn't her face beamed at countless newsstands from the July cover of "Vanity Fair"? How could she be dead?!
As more details of the crash were revealed, however, it was apparent that Diana really never had a chance.
I had watched Diana's world-famous wedding, but it was only after her marriage began to crumble that I came to realize a real person lived under that tiara. I thought, "Here's the Princess of Wales, and she has problems, too." Although I was never a fanatic Diana-phile, I kept aware of what was happening in her life. I admired her because she seemed to embody both style and substance.
I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. watching the TV news coverage of her death. I also listened to the BBC World Service, which was just announcing Diana's death to the British populace. What a horrible thing for them to have to wake up to...
The next day, CNN gave the story virtually continuous coverage. I'm sure no one will ever forget the sight of Diana's standard-draped casket being carried solemnly to a waiting hearse by a Royal Air Force honor guard.
Tributes to Diana poured in from heads of state and celebrities worldwide. However, I believe the most meaningful tributes came from everyday people, such as the children who placed flowers and teddy bears in front of Diana's residence at Kensington Palace. More than one mourner was heard to say, "I never met Diana, but I felt as if I knew her...I feel like I've lost a member of my own family."
That sounded familar. It reminded me of when Jeremy Brett passed away nearly two years ago. The mourning for Diana was on an infinitely larger scale, of course, but it was similar in-as-much as the mourners' hearts had been deeply touched by someone most of them had "met" only through television and other media.
I heard female commentators on two different radio programs admit, almost sheepishly, "I don't know why this story has affected me so much." It was as if sensible, intelligent women weren't supposed to feel Diana's loss.
Indeed, as soon as the inital shock and disbelief started wearing off, some people started deconstructing Diana. On September 1, I heard a National Public Radio phone-in panel discussion where Important Intellectual People pooh-poohed the enormous amount of attention being paid to Diana's death.
"Get a grip," they more or less said. "Diana was a blonde with a cute smile and too many clothes--'Windsor Barbie.' If she hadn't been married to the Prince of Wales, she'd be just another London society matron."
It was suggested that her charity work was little more than a series of self-serving photo opportunities. Again, it took an "everyday" person to put things into their proper perspective. A listener who described himself as a well-educated man with a Christian upbringing called into the program. He admitted Diana's charity work put him to shame, because, despite his education and upbringing, he usually kept his distance from people who were hurting. He recalled a story about Diana comforting a hospital patient who was afflicted with a malodorous tumor. Most people shrank away from the odor, but Diana tenderly embraced the patient. Not for the 20 seconds sufficient for a photo op--but for 20 minutes.
The caller concluded, "She didn't have to do that."
A few years ago I attended a Jewish wedding ceremony. A glass was broken as part of the ceremony. The rabbi explained that this was to remind the happy couple that we live in a broken world, and rather than try to insulate themselves from its brokenness, they should reach out and share their happiness with the world.
Diana, too, realized we live in a broken world. She could have insulated herself from the world and lived in a bubble of wealth and self-indulgence. Make no mistake--Diana lived the high life to its fullest. But, as an editorial in The Jerusalem Post reminds us, Diana also "adopted causes no other celeb would touch with a barge pole and touched them with the magic wand of media attention."
Most dignitaries who visit impoverished nations or hospital wards are photographed holding cute, cuddly babies. Diana did her share of baby-cuddling, of course, but she turned her focus--and thereby the camera's focus, and our focus--to less-photogenic subjects, as well: homeless people, legless landmine victims, AIDS patients.
It seems that those best equipped to help suffering people are people who have themselves suffered. Jeremy Brett, well-known for his generosity, told a BBC radio reporter that he didn't really "see" other people's troubles until after he'd lost his wife and endured a nervous breakdown.
Incredible as it may seem, the best-dressed, most-photographed woman in the world had troubles, too. Diana grew up in a privileged, but broken home; at age 20 she was thrust into the demanding roles of Princess of Wales and young wife and mother; she lost her father as her fairy tale marriage was becoming a horror story; she experienced bouts of bulimia and depression; forced to forever walk the tightrope between media attention and media obsession, she was unable to enjoy a ski trip with her sons or a late-night supper with a friend without the intrusion of the camera lens.
Diana was well-acquainted with sorrow, yet she was prepared to help others. She told a British TV interviewer in 1995, "Yes, I have had difficulties, as everybody has witnessed over the years, but let's now use the knowledge that I have gathered to help other people in distress."
Diana also said, "The British people need someone in public life to give affection, to make them feel important, to support them, to give them light in their dark tunnels..."
Those words may have sounded a bit naive, a bit idealistic, and perhaps even a bit grandiose when Diana first uttered them. But, she followed through on them, proving that she was, indeed, a true queen of hearts.
Tragically, there was no light for Diana in that dark Parisian tunnel, except for the glare of flashbulbs as outlaw cameras stole images of the moribund princess. True, the paparazzi may not have caused Diana's car to crash, but their presence seems to have been a contributing factor in the disaster. And, the excuse, "We were just doing our jobs" is no excuse at all.
In one of her last public speeches, Diana spoke of the long-lived destructiveness of landmines. Her words could just as well describe the acts of the photographers who intruded on her dying moments: "The evil men do lives on." The "stalkerazzi" present at the crash scene will go down in history as ghouls who saw dollar signs in their viewfinders when they should have seen human beings.
Fortunately, the good Diana did will live on, as well. No doubt, there are those who will argue that Diana was not a "saint." Of course she wasn't--she was a human being. However, her good works are undeniably saintly. Inspired by the example of Mother Teresa, Diana did unto "the least of these," the sick, the maimed, the outcast, the dying--people the world would just as soon not have to deal with.
When Diana removed her gloves to shake hands with an AIDS patient, it was more than just a landmark moment for royalty. It was a metaphor for how we should all live our lives: with gloves off, and unafraid to touch hands--or hearts.
Thank you, dear Diana, Queen of Hearts--may you rest in peace.
My thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana's family and friends, the loved ones of Dodi al Fayed, Trevor Rees-Jones, and Henri Paul, and with every person in Britain during these difficult days.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." - Psalm 46:1