Memories of Princess Diana, unvarnished by time

Memories of Princess Diana, unvarnished by time

Where were you when you found out Princess Diana had died in that horrific crash in Paris 20 years ago?

I bet you can remember.

For me... it was devastating. My ex-husband and I had just returned home from the Cousin Jack's annual Labor Day party...a full evening with family, friends. and barbecue. It was near midnight, August 30, 1997. He went to bed, but night owl that I was, I flipped on CNN to catch up with the news.

"Princess Diana gravely injured in crash." 

And soon after...

"Princess Diana dead at 36."

My heart skipped a beat. And I grew a little older as Diana, Princess of Wales, slipped into immortality.

I had come of age during Princess Diana's courtship and 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. I'd witnessed her wedding, as so many millions had, on television, rising earlier than 'Breakfast at Wimbledon.' 

We were contemporaries. And though her story never could be my story, I identified with Diana's vulnerability, her personal struggles, and most significantly, her evolution of inner strength that came from finding her own voice and courage.

Because of her courage, people all over the world were urged to hug men, women and children with AIDS. Or leprosy. Though she was surely a far cry from perfect, she did exemplify the most basic of Christ's teachings:

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  

And the King will answer them 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

I thought to a year earlier, when Princess Diana had come to Northwestern University, the guest of then-University President Henry Bienen. 

I had been one of the lucky media members who was assigned to cover her gala at the Field Museum, after my UPI Radio boss was unable to attend. His wife was pregnant, and they had a doctor's appointment that night. So he sent me. 

I hoped the neck brace I was wearing, recuperating from herniated discs, might make me sympathetic, somehow. 

I still remember my night at the museum like it was yesterday. 

Me,  running up the Field Museum stairs, microphone/tape recorder extended, as she and Dr. Bienen made their way up the long Field Museum stairs, yelling "Your Highness! Your Highness!" and trying to get her attention. (She never looked my way, not even with her famous blue-eyed side-glance).  

Though I never got the interview, I was less than three feet away from Princess Diana, and saw how very spectacular she looked in person: The floor-length Northwestern-purple gown and pearls, her dazzling smile, her razor-thin frame, perfectly coiffed blonde hair... moving with a dancer's grace up those uneven cement stairs, never clutching the bannister, as I might have.

But with the microphone, I was simply, one of "them." The 'hunter,' as her brother, Charles Spencer, called the media in his eulogy.  And I didn't know it at the time, but it proved to be my very last chance at interviewing Princess Diana.

Such selfish thoughts were put aside as I turned to prayers for her children, William and Harry, growing up without a mother. Imagining how distraught they must be,  I immediately prayed for them. I thought of Prince Charles, and hoped he didn't have anything to do with it. 

The prayers I said that night were heartfelt, and 20 years later, her legacy of transforming lives is clearer than ever. 

Rather than seeing need and people at a distance, Prince William, his wife, Princess Kate, and Prince Harry have joined forces to carry on her legacy of compassion, acceptance, and reaching out to meet someone at the point of their needs, without judgement. At this time of great division in our world, it would do us all some good to reflect, remember, and pay the legacy of Princess Diana forward.

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