August 28, 2012

{What If?}

[This is the first of two essays—extracted from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride—to be posted commemorating the 15th anniversary of Princess Diana's death.] 

Do you ever wonder about the nature of fame, and what it is about fame and celebrity that attracts us, and why and how certain people capture the attention of an entire population—even becoming an icon of a culture? This is someone whose life becomes bigger than theirs alone and sometimes what we learn from their life proves opposite of what they actually got to experience.

Princess Diana, who died fifteen years ago on August 31st, was certainly one of those illuminated personalities who take the world stage and hold our attention with such charisma that we simply can’t turn away. Her dynamic appeal even inspired a mythological language, a “what if?” kind of mystique, turning her into—what Jungian scholars called—“a legend that never dies.” 

Diana did not invent our fascination with nobility and their grand rituals; however, British royalty acquired the status of super stardom when she entered their elite fold. Her wedding to the heir to its throne in the summer of 1981 energized England’s notorious media machine and the tabloid mentality that followed not only made Diana a mega-celebrity, but it also perpetuated the decline of decorum and darn near ended the concept of wonder and mystery, turning a willing public into an adoring, yet leering audience. Once the tabloid press breached the boundaries of private and public lives of royalty in those days, it laid bare our lives as well. So as we became voyeurs into the lives of royalty, we invited voyeurs into our own.

But perhaps it took this personal exposure and immense celebrity of a beautiful princess—feminine, open-hearted, compassionate, yet conniving and imperfect—to break apart a harsh and controlling patriarchal culture, forcing us to peer deeply into our own lives in order to face the intimacy we had been avoiding. Is that why Diana attracted us like few others? The romance and fantasy and dazzle of celebrity may have gotten our attention, but something else had us linger. What was she trying to tell us? What was she unraveling that seemed to move through our hearts and have us ask those “what if” sort of questions about our own life? 

Here in the particularity of this one life—a princess who was a wounded healer, a mother who was an agent of change, a beautiful woman who turned things and people inside out—we may pause and wonder what it all meant. Then we go and tell our stories, looking for our own paradise, wistful for the sense of magic and mystery we lost. She may have schemed and plotted, but in the end, Diana was a woman beginning to find her spiritual center and we see that legacy in the lives of her two heart-centered sons.
Diana's is a story that will be told again and again, and in the retelling it will not be celebrity or politics or shiny, glittery objects or even accuracy that matters. It will be something more tender...something that has us slow down and notice each other...something that feels like your heart opening. ~
[On Friday, a new post on the 15th anniversary of Princess Diana's death.]

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