Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997 and Mother Teresa on Sept. 5, 1997. Guess which one got the most media coverage?
And so I never followed the Diana story, not interested in playing into the rich and privileged star celebrity culture. But having just watched Season 4 of The Crown and Diana: In Her Own Words, I’m fascinated by her story. It really was a fairy tale life, not in the superficial sense the media means it, but in a deeper mythological vein.
Consider: She was the youngest daughter in the Spencer family. In the fairy tales, it is the youngest one who is set apart, who accomplishes the needed tasks the older ones often fail to carry out. She recounts that she always felt herself apart, with some intuitive sense of a great destiny awaiting her.
Meeting Prince Charles was a bit like Cinderella at the ball. Of course, the Spencers were royalty and she was not shoveling ashes, but she was living with roommates and working in various low-paying jobs (like teaching!).
After the marriage, the place where most fairy tales end, is the moment where hers begins. She is like Rapunzel locked in the tower of Buckingham Palace, the Queen and the Royal Family not intentionally mean to her, but unpracticed in offering welcome, love and support. Including her emotionally-arrested privileged husband Charles, more interested in polo than exploring a deeper humanity. She is like the neglected step-daughter, thrust by circumstance into a new life that becomes unbearable. In the midst of riches and fame and fortune, she feels yet more isolated, more lonely. Like Cinderella weeping at the hearth, she sits at the toilet vomiting, her unhappiness manifesting as and driven home deeper by bulemia.
Each day she is attacked, not by monsters shooting arrows, but paparazzi shooting photos. Each and every flash of a camera bulb sends a wound to a soul that only craves a human-size privacy. Alone and unloved inside the palace, assaulted by cameras and cheers outside the palace, there is nowhere for her to be, to fully breathe her authentic self.
She soon discovers that breaking through the wall of adoration, connecting in short bursts of person-to-person humanity with the screaming, adoring throngs brings some comfort. Simple acts like taking someone’s camera and taking a picture of them or hugging a boy sick with Aids moves her out of the Ice Queen role the public expected and allows her to feel a bit more of who she is and could be.
But then the backlash. Now she is even more excessively adored and the cameras and crowds multiply. And inside the palace, her husband is jealous that she gets more attention and turns his own to his long-standing mistress. Having two children has its healing moments—she genuinely loves and adores them and hugs them and tells them so. But now post-partum depression is added to the bulemia, isolation and media assault. Kids, be careful what you wish for—being a princess is no fun!
Back a few posts ago, I wrote: All wisdom traditions agree that the light shines through the cracks in our armor, that our wounds are the entry points to our larger selves. Betrayals in the human world are often necessary to the soul’s awakening.
And so it was with Diana. Prince Charles seemed stuck in his small world (though to be fair, would be interesting to hear his side of the story), but in the midst of this relentless and deep suffering, the woundings from being unloved by the immediate family and overloved by the media-soaked crowds let some light into her soul’s calling. She throws herself into working with those wounded literally by land mines and Aids viruses, especially the children, and uses her fame and privilege on behalf of them. She becomes a sexier, more glamorous, but possible equally important and effective Mother Theresa, not in spite of her fairy tale life, but because of it.
Then from the fairy tale to the Greek/ Shakespeare tragedy. She became affectionately known as Princess Di and add an e to that and you can see that it was not going to end well. That the very thing that haunted and stalked her her whole life long was following her through that tunnel with cameras poised to shoot and that the driver’s careless mistake trying to flee them became the tragic flaw that led to her death. (Interesting enough, she was buried with a rosary in her hand that Mother Theresa had gifted her. Yet more proof that this was a story that had to be.)
The thousands of flowers placed in front of Buckingham Palace by her mourners at her funeral were testimony to an impact that began from superficial star worship and moved in the course of her life to soulful human appreciation.
This little piece is my own offering, a small bouquet of flowers to a fellow human being who suffered greatly and worked with her wounds to bring some light and healing to the world.
R.I.P. Princess Di.