August 31, 1997
It was an uneventful flight home Wednesday. Unlike the trip to see my family in Indiana, there were no flat tires on the plane, no missed connections, no last minute trips to alternate destinations.
In fact, it was entirely unremarkable, except for one thing that now, in light of recent events, sticks out.
Sitting in a fast-moving tube of metal 31,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, my seating row companion said "Do you want to read this?"
This was on the Dallas to Burbank leg of my trip, and I had spent much of the flight time reading various magazines I had brought along. As I had just about exhausted my supply and was looking for something new, I accepted her offer.
It was People Magazine. You know, the one from a week or two ago … with the cover feature on Princess Diana’s new love life.
Now, I’ve always liked Princess Diana. To me, she always had "it," that indefinable quality that was a combination of attraction and empathy. I had no doubt whatsoever that given the chance, Diana could hang out with me and my friends, and she would no doubt fit in quite nicely. She wasn’t that much older than I, and as a teenager coming of age in Britain during the birth of punk rock, I suspected beneath her polished Princess veneer beat the heart of a rebel. She let that side show every now and again, sometimes paying the price in public scorn, but to me, it just served to make her more real.
So I read the article. I looked at the grainy photos of Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, her new playboy boyfriend.
Then came Sunday's crash, and their deaths. Now, to put it bluntly, I feel like an accomplice to murder.
See, I was on those motorcycles chasing Diana. You probably were too. We read about her, watched the tabloid shows about her, and always looked out for any nugget of Princess news. We created that frenzy. To be certain, the power of her personality was so great, it helped energized that mass market for news about her. But we were the ones always wanting more. In the end, that market spiraled out of control, with deadly consequences. And I am ashamed, horrified, and guilty all at the same time, knowing that I am part of the public that caused this fatal frenzy.
There is no reason, no reason whatsoever, that she should not be able to be with her children this weekend. Two boys have lost their mother under the most stupid, stupid circumstances (chased by rabid paparazzi, ugh, what a terrible way to go), a country has lost a royal family member, and the world has lost a true goodwill ambassador who lived to spread compassion and understanding.
Back to the plane trip: I put down the magazine after reading the Diana article and skimming through the rest of the much-less-interesting stories. I turned my attention back to the spectacular show unfolding outside my window. High above New Mexico and Arizona, cotton candy clouds piled up miles in the sky, dancing and darting to atmospheric pressures. I wondered what it must have been like for the first human who flew this high – could he believe that the tops of the clouds contained so much beauty? Could he convey what he had seen? And having soared to such heights, how could he ever stand to return to Earth, knowing of the fantastic world always over his head, almost always out of his reach?
Now, I picture Diana soaring above those fantastic clouds, looking back at us, and reminding us of life’s fragility. Hopefully, she’s gone to a place where all fairy tales have happy endings. But here on Earth, I know it’s going to take me a while to work through the strange sadness and shame I feel over the loss of such a shining star.
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