Diana: 'One of Us' A kindred spirit of her time says a fond farewell to a princess

September 14, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm

Diana, Princess of Wales, was only 10 days older than I. She was born July 1, 1961; I was born on the 11th. And I am writing this 10 days after she died. So I can count almost all the days she had on Earth, and seeing the dates 1961-1997 stops my heart short.

We girls born in July that summer are made of strong stuff, but we're also awfully romantic souls at heart. The kind of girls who believe in fairy tales.

And Diana, I know that life seemed to be just beginning a new brightening, and that death was the last thing on your mind. Clearly, you were in prime time, in the full bloom of beauty, health and most important, a hard-won peace of mind. Joy was in your grasp.

No other woman in modern memory has lived in such a large glass house. Your private life was public property. But what you achieved was something more purposeful: You took your royal role very personally.

You brought your essence to every move you made. We the people - especially women - knew that you were really one of us. As we went through our struggles and stages, so did you, so did we all.

And if I may be so bold, you had finally made it, girlfriend! Your admirers on both sides of the Atlantic were rooting for you as you defined your identity apart from the so-called royals who probably thought of you as nothing but trouble for "the family firm."

They didn't realize that people didn't love you any less for sharing your sorrows, frailties and problems but in fact, loved you more for it.

We had more than July in common. I lived in London once upon a time, 1986 to 1988. I thought I might live happily ever after, but my marriage to an Englishman - the eldest son - broke up the summer we were 28 going on 29.

In England, I worked at CBS News in Knightsbridge, a short walk from Harrods. Once in a while, someone I knew would see you at a news event or maybe out shopping for earrings. And you made people glow.

It was a victory to see you flourish and shine in your own right. In our 30s, we both discovered how much better it is to be happily single than unhappily married.

The graceful way you chose to carry on and bring new meaning to your work was a vote of confidence in the "ever after" when the fairy tale fails. That was a very welcome message that resonated with the world of women witnessing your destiny.

You movingly defined your part on the world stage: "I will run to anyone who calls to me in distress, wherever it is."

And you gave as good a diagnosis as any of what ails the modern age: "the disease of feeling unloved."

Who is to say that you would not have turned out to be one of the great humanitarians of our time? Mother Teresa had a long life to do her good works and was nearly 70 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She prayed for you on her dying day, and you were buried with a rosary she gave you.

So somehow you and she were kindred souls. I can think of no other public figure in our generation who gave so much of herself to others.

As a wise Baltimore woman observed in Sherwood Gardens, "She gave better than she got."

The world was bathed in bitter tears for you; a poll reported that most American women wept along with practically all of England. And you should have seen the flowers everywhere. If your spirit needed vindication, you sure got one down here on Earth.

I went to the National Cathedral for the prayers, hymns and remembrances, but I also had my private ceremony for you. I planted two royal blue pansies in my garden the day after the funeral - one for me, one for you. As Shakespeare's Ophelia said before dying young, "Pansies, that's for thoughts."

The English rose is dead. The candle's light is out. The planet is a darker place without you, Diana, the freshest flower in the garden of memory.

Rest in peace.

Jamie Stiehm is a reporter for The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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