Diana, Princess of Wales

&

Mother Teresa

By Carter B. Horsley

The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in a tunnel along the Seine in Paris as she and her paramour, Emad Mohamed al-Fayed, were pursued by a troupe of paparazzi, elicited the most public global mourning for an individual since the death of President John F. Kennedy about a third of century before.

Her death certainly was tragic as she had matured from being merely a lovely princess into a serious and important humanitarian who was making the most of an overly scrutinized life, a fairy-tale life that dazzled and taunted the dreams of men and women alike, young and old, rich and poor.

Her achievements - a commitment to reach out and literally touch those who suffer, whether from AIDS, leprosy, or the devastation of landmines - were palpably honorable, real and influential.

Although she neither saved nor created an empire, or freed slaves, or the oppressed, or solved any of the great mysteries of life, she represented grace and nobility, the latter in its best, non-hereditary meaning.

While some details and episodes in her truncated and at times tormented life were not quintessentially perfect, her legacy will be one of personal concern for not only her family, but for other people. Her leadership in that regard is likely to prove more lasting than her foibles, or her legendary beauty.

Her death, and that of her friend, rekindled public debates about celebrity and privacy.

Such debates, however, are relatively petty.

Much of the major media coverage of the death of the Princess of Wales was adequate, although it tended to overemphasize the importance of paparazzi, loutish scum who are merely executioners for the business people who own and profit from the tabloids they serve. In a capitalist world, of course, there is little difference between such publishing entrepreneurs and the average business person: morality, for many of them, has no place on the shelf of profit.

The real villains are not the overtly trashy tabloids and their hirelings, but the high-priced whores of established media who pompously lent alleged "stature" to news by foistering the notion that celebrity is a great, if not the highest value, in American life. Such celebrity newspersons and "talkers" and their "entertainment" television news magazine cohorts make a mockery of serious journalism with their gushing, fawning pandering to "fab" personalities and their callous disregard of serious news standards.

There is nothing wrong with entertainment and nothing wrong with interest in celebrities, but the major media, both visual and print, have higher responsibilities and those standards have been falling steadily.

Network executives who not only pander, but order trash have created the sensationalistic, tabloid fever that dominates much of what passes for culture at the end of the 20th Century. It is a repugnant, vapid, degrading culture.

Part of the problem is that many media tycoons, executives and pundits put the blame on the public and maintain that they are only providing the public with what it wants.

That is precisely the crux of the problem. It is the media's responsibility to give the public not necessarily what it wants but what experienced, incisive, and "objective" journalism understands to be important. The press, of course, is not infallible, but its standards cannot be treated as a routine, bottom-line accounting dictate. The press has, or should have, higher standards than business.

Good journalism still exists, of course, but it is increasingly rare.

Hopefully, Diana's tragedy will send shivers up the spines of the major media which must always remember that a free press must also be a responsible press.

Censorship is unthinkable.

Even some of the nastiest tabloids have broken some important news stories.

Good decorum and good news can be boring, and quality does not always win out, but when it does it is nice.

The United States is too pre-occupied with sporting events, stock prices, gambling, and in recent years ever-more violent, more fantastic escapism and not enough with substantive issues of human relations, the environment and the wonders of life.

It is not a unique American phenomenon.

Journalism serves many purposes, not the least of which is curiosity. Are we being told the truth? Do we know the truth? Can we recognize the truth? What does it mean?

One can easily ask countless "important" questions, but too often they are not being asked and instead we are inundated by irrelevancies, or anecdotal episodes, or non sequiturs, or just plain vicarious silliness.

We are preoccupied with being humored, not challenged, coddled, not nurtured.

 

We are the enemy when we patronize the sleazy, the opportunistic, the inane, when we inure ourselves to social involvement, civic responsibilities and plain ole decency.

Individuals do make a difference and emotions are important and shared emotions are significant, but it is not sufficient to feel empathy, or sympathy. Actions speak louder than words.

Occasional diversions make life a bit more bearable, but wasted lives are unbearable.



"Faith, Hope and Love"

 

Diana's funeral was an extraordinary world event and was handled with great sensitivity by the Royal Family.  The Queen's speech earlier in the week brilliantly transcended critics by graciously, calmly and with great reverence paying respect not only to Diana, but also to the fundamental underpinings of family values, and the vital need for compassionate leadership.

 

The solemnity of the service was highlighted by Elton John's moving song, Tony Blair's beautiful reading from the First Book of Corinthinians, the Archbishop of Canterbury's proper inclusion of mention of Diana's friend, "Dodi," and Mother Teresa, who passed away during the week.

A tribute by Diana's brother at the service was remarkable for its forthright, personal affection and its strong condemnation of both the media and the Royal Family. By touching such bases, it was a memorable reminder that deep emotions vie with harsh realities in our attempts to "rule" our worlds.  Because it was so heartfelt, it conquered questions of propriety.

The indelible scenes of Diana's cortege being pummeled with bouquets and escorted by applause, and of her brother flanked by Prince William and Prince Harry, Prince Charles and Prince Phillip walking behind Diana's coffin on the way to Westminister Abbey, brought tears to hundreds of millions of people.

In modern times, the only comparable global emotions have been for Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Gandhi, Lenin, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, world-shakers, and, to a slightly lesser extent, by Popes and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Princess Grace.

An editor for The Observer remarked during the BBC's coverage of Diana's funeral that we now live in "a culture of intimacy."

At first blush, such a phrase sounds like a "spin" to explain away the excesses of our age's inordinate preoccupation with celebrity and vicarious thrills.  

It is an optimistic interpretation, the "culture of intimacy," one that harkens to chivalrous trust and ties of duty and honor rather than prurient fascination with the grotesque, the ugly, the uncivil side of human nature.

But it is the right theme, the right gesture, the right touch.

Compassion.  Faith.  Hope.  Love.

These are the qualities that we admired in Diana and Mother Teresa.  The video, shown often during this week of tributes, of the two of them talking and embracing was perhaps not the most overwhelming emotional epitome of this communion of humanity, but certainly one of the most poignant.

In a world still filled with scourges and strife, in a world of harsh "downsizings," ever-widening disparities of lifestyles and virtual isolations, in a world of suffering and loneliness, mingled with wonders and fantasies, in a world overwhelmed by its own vastness and myriad problems, in a world whose nature changes inexorably, the pageantry of history and the panoply of power succumb to the slow walk, the bowed head, the tears, the tears of sorrow that a life has expired and the tears of joy to know how many care.

In talking of the dying and the destitute for whom she cared, Mother Teresa spoke of "how great they are."  

Diana and Mother Teresa will be remembered, vividly, for their gifts of love.  (9/6)

 

Mother Teresa

The Poor Are With Us

In starkest contrast with the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, the funeral, a week later on September 13, 1997, of Mother Teresa in Calcutta was decidedly, and perhaps fittingly, low-key.

Its video broadcast to the United States, unfortunately, was marred by serious engineering glitches that resulted in a loss of audio and video for lenghty periods on WCBS and WNBC and faulty audio on WABC and programming glitches that began too late for the former two networks and ended too early for the latter.

All these networks were dependent on a "feed" from India television for images of the funeral procession, the funeral itself and the cortege following the long service.  By and large, this "feed" was surprisingly inept in its coverage, at least in comparison with traditional contemporary "Western" standards of many, many viewpoints and striking imagery.  The images, for example, of the start of the funeral procession almost never showed "long" establishing shots, cropping closely to the actual procession and the few, fleeting glimpses of sidewalks along the route seemed to indicate that all of India had stayed away except for a brief moment when scores of observers approached closely to the passing trucks and the American commentators took no notice whatsover of crowd size or conduct.  One was left with the scandalous impression from these initial images that the people of Calcutta had studiously avoided turning out to pay homage to the huge city's most famous resident.

The final approach to the indoor area where the funeral service was conducted, however, was more impressive as military and police stood at attention for the last several blocks, making their absence for the vast length of the entire procession even more puzzling.

The very long service began with a relatively traditional and very long Roman Catholic requiem mass presided over by about 10 Cardinals with choral music sung by members of Mother Teresa's missionaries of charity.

Peter Jennings of ABC had several guest commentators with him for long cutaways from the service and one of them, writer Christopher Hitchens, unleashed a lenghty and vitriolic diatribe against Mother Teresa as a manipulative woman who mingled with the rich and did not try to root out the causes of poverty.  The always unflappable Jennings was obviously aghast at the attack, noting, however, that some of the press in Calcutta had also been recently critical, and firmly ended Hitchens' commentary, observing that such a debate was perhaps not entirely appropriate at that time.

Jennings ended his broadcast at 3AM, New York time, leaving viewers witless to what followed, which, in fact, were the most moving portions of the entire funeral, the comments by representatives of other religions and the laying of wreaths by the representatives of many countries.

The service should have been reversed as the representatives of the other religions and the laying of wreaths were very deeply moving, to put it mildly.  To hear the Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and others eloquently and with great dignity and passion pay extraordinary homage to this little foreigner in their midst was one of the transcendent moments in world history: a reverberant echo of the power of an physically puny individual with great, warm hands of affection, a prayerful reminder that peace and love passeth all understanding, a resounding answer and call for the communion of diverse cultures, a reverence for the respect of humanity.

CBS stayed on the air with its coverage a bit longer than NBC and ABC and Dan Rather had perhaps his finest moment with dear, heartfelt and appropriate closing remarks that articulately conveyed the depths of emotion that he and millions around the world felt while NBC had already switched to yet another special on Diana and paparazzi.

Fortunately, Fox News, Channel 5 in New York, picked up coverage where the others left off and stayed on the air at least until the cortege left the stadium with Mother Teresa's body now draped not only in the India flag and her famous white and blue sari but a plastic cover to protect her from the rain that had begun to pour.

The measured steps of her military guard were heart-pounding in their solemnity, but perhaps the most stunning visual of the entire service was the manner in which the attendant soldiers, splendidly attired in bright red headdresses presented wreaths to the honored guests for laying at the side of Mother Teresa's open casket.  With their hesitant, precise march, one soldier at a time carried a wreath to the casket and awaited each dignitary with great timing to present it with a stunning snappiness, a startling, commanding shift, and then discretely and precisely moved away while the wreath was placed and the official made a brief gesture of respect, a bow, or clapsed hands raised high, or a gentle touch of the casket.

This was simple, but magnificent as these officials included queens, first ladies, heads of state and diplomatic representatives, not just a few, but many and each one added a noble ratchet of endearment, their aggregate honor overwhelming.

The most poignant moment, however, was earlier during the offertory section of the mass when a disabled and deaf man approached the casket and the altar with one of the service's chalices, walking with very great difficulty and, as he passed the casket, with trembling hands.  One of the clerical assistants helped him the last few feet and the lead cardinal for the service patted his shoulder as he turned back.  This man was not the only representative of the afflicted and needy present, of course, but his courage in those final steps brings tears even as I write this.  This is the message of Mother Teresa: direct, immediate action, caring, love and the hell with ceremony, tradition, pomp and circumstance.

During the long service, the open casket was seen by television viewers mostly from a very high overhead shot, or from a sharply raked angle that did not provide a good view of Mother Teresa's face, a face indelible in life for its kindness and now a face indelible in death for its stark, immobile finality, hearkening in its drama to Andreas Mantegna's remarkable painting of the dead Christ on a catalfalque.

Mother Teresa had a smile no less dazzling than that of Diana, Princess of Wales, but she also had a face that paid no heed to cosmetic notions of beauty, only to the "great" suffering spirits caught up in this "mortal coil."  The open casket was honest as the frailest she served are beautiful in their tormented, brave hearts.  She did not shy away from reality, but embraced it.  Her serious purposes saw through the ceremonial and the extravagant, and in her age she put away childish things.

To jaded, Western eyes, the first part of the service was something of a disappointment.  How do you top the British and the oh-so-recent funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales?  One naively expected to see throngs of millions, oceans of grief, and a climactic cultural flourish of memorable colors, fabrics, flowers, faces.  Of course, Diana's world was mostly of glamour and Mother Teresa's world was mostly very close to the humble ground.  Diana danced.  Mother Teresa merely cherished life, the life of others.

In the end, Diana was a lost "soul" who struggled to find meaning in life and Mother Teresa gave meaning to life.  

More Than A Woman

A few hours after the service for Mother Teresa, I went to my local coffeeshop to read the papers and in the background heard its radio blaring, by chance, the BeeGees' "More Than A Woman." Mother Teresa was more than a woman.  I cried. (9/13)

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