Letters from London Legacy of a Princess

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By Will Pratt – 

Today, as I write, Diana, Princess of Wales, is being laid to rest in the grounds of the home where she played as a little girl.

Not since the Dallas assassination of President John F. Kennedy has Britain been so shocked by a person’s death–so tragically caused at age 36 in a high-speed car accident on a Paris street. I, like everyone else in the country, was stunned and unbelieving when the news broke in the early hours of last Sunday morning.

In the week that has followed, Diana’s life and death have been dominant in everyone’s thinking. The media has been particularly under scrutiny because of allegations that an army of photographers, the so-called paparazzi, caused the accident by their intrusive photography as her car tried to speed away from them. Then came allegations that her driver was under the influence of drink.

While news of the French police investigation was awaited, attention concentrated entirely on the qualities of the princess. Scores of photographs and TV videos not only showed her remarkable beauty and attractiveness, but told of her holding hands with AIDS patients, visiting a leprosarium, talking with disillusioned young people, cuddling destitute babies and children. Most recently, after having seen tragic amputees left by fleeing armies, she had called on the United Nations to ban the use and production of land mines. It is now proposed that such a bill should be called the Princess Diana bill.

Shock has turned to dignified national grief in a way that no one can ever recall. People lined up for as long as eight hours–both night and day–to sign books of remembrance and gratitude at London’s palaces, civic centers, cathedrals and churches throughout the country. Countless bouquets and humble posies of flowers spread like a fragrant carpet outside Buckingham Palace and many other sites linked to the Princess. Many carried simple messages, such as “Diana, we loved you;” “To Diana, rest safely in the arms of God;” and “We hope you are happy and the angels are looking after you.” Many knelt beside the palace railings to pray and some to weep. It has been likened to a scene at the shrine in Lourdes, France.

At least a million silent people packed London to watch the nearly two-hour procession to Westminster. A gun carriage bore her coffin on which rested three wreaths of white flowers: one from her brother and the others from her sons, Prince William (15) and Prince Harry (13). On Harry’s card was one emotion-evoking word, “Mummy.”

It would take an entire New Frontier to tell the whole story of this week. I make only the following points:

(a) An entire nation can be stirred by one compassionate person. After Diana’s divorce and lowering of her royal status, she could understandably have withdrawn from public service. Instead, she used her own hurt to heal the hurting. She “took captivity captive.”

(b) Leaders, hierarchies, headquarters that get out of touch with their people risk being overtaken by them. By mid-week not only the tabloid newspapers but most of the media was asking, “Why has the royal family not returned from holiday to grieve with their people? Why is there no flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace? Why is the funeral procession so short, with little time to see Diana’s cortege? Why hasn’t the Queen spoken to the nation?”

Result: the royal family returned to London. The Queen spoke most effectively on TV. A Union Jack flew at half-mast over the palace. The funeral route was lengthened both to and from Westminster Abbey, where a deeply moving service that combined both tradition and popular appeal was held. Many think the royal family can never be the same again.

(c) In times of grief and crisis, a public seemingly indifferent to church and religion turns desperately to God. Both in public and private, people have not hesitated to kneel in prayer, to speak of spiritual qualities, to admit that standards have been falling in Britain, and to hope Diana’s compassionate qualities will become the standard for everyone.

Simon Peter said it all long years ago: “Lord, to whom shall we go. Thou hast the words of eternal life.” As Jesus said, “The man who puts his trust in me will no longer wander in darkness.”

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