Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the first day of Lent. Following a bit of a dead diva-related brouhaha on Facebook over the past week or so, I have made a commitment that for the 40 days of Lent, I am going to post each day about a person who has inspired my admiration, respect and / or compassion, prominent or not, living or dead. They are not in any particular order or ranking.
These are people who have inspired these sentiments in me. It would be nice if others feel the same way, but it is not a requirement, and I'm really not interested in being told I'm wrong!!! This is about who inspires ME. It CAN'T be wrong.
Today is the first installment, and as you can see by the title, Princess Diana is going to be my choice to start this process.
I was captivated by Lady Diana Spencer from the very beginning of her public life. She was 7 months younger than me, so I was a teenager when her whole odyssey began; still young and naive enough to be enthralled by princes and princesses and the possibility of real life fairy tales playing out for the world to see.
There are many stories and sides to the Princess of Wales, some flattering, some not. But some things that she did are factual and undeniable, and have my undying respect.
Diana was the first Royal to shake the hand of an AIDS patient, when the rest of the world were still grappling with whether or not it was safe to be in the same room with one.
Following HER lead, Prince Charles even donated blood, to demonstrate that it was safe and one could not get HIV / AIDS in that way.
In her later years, Diana had taken on the cause of land mines, with the hope of having them eradicated throughout the war-torn world. No glitzy-glamour there, but a worthy cause that would not have otherwise received the attention it has.
There is no way, in one short blog post, that I can do justice to all of the many charities that Diana chaired and supported. These are just two examples of her compassion, a new concept to the Royal Family at the time, and are the ones that jump to mind when I think of her.
I was very sad when her supposedly fairy tale marriage ended, and when stories, true, exaggerated or not, of what she had to endure surfaced. In many ways, she didn't help herself, but I believe that had she received the support and guidance that Kate Middleton undoubtedly did, things might have been different. And of course, if Charles had not married her, because he did not love her, she would certainly still be alive.
And then she died. Oh my.
I was on the Bill Shoemaker oil rig that day. No TV, no radio, no newspaper, no telephone, no nothing. I came down for breakfast, and the Chief Steward said, "Diana died last night", to which I smiled and said, "Yeah...???" I was expecting him to say, "...and when she got to the Pearly Gates, St. Peter was there..." and would continue on with what I thought was a joke.
It was no joke.
I sat at the table with the rest of the catering crew for a little while, then I went up to my cabin. I closed the door, and screeched. I thought I was stupid and INSANE. Here I was, all emotional over this person I didn't know, even though I had read every book about her, every People and Time magazine article about her, everything. But still. She was a public figure, and here I was, in a state. It made no sense, even to me.
I was finally able to get a phone line patched through, and called my Mom, who held the phone receiver to the TV for about 10 minutes, so I could hear what was going on. My sister was given strict instructions to record on the VCR everything and anything for the next few days. I still have those tapes downstairs, in a box.
When I came home a couple of days later, I was actually a bit relieved to see that the rest of the world was crying, too, it wasn't just me, stuck out on the water, unaware for the most part of what was going on. The images were amazing, especially of the ocean of flowers outside Kensington Palace. Stunning.
But to this day, Diana, Princess of Wales, ranks as a person who I vastly admire and respect, and felt compassion for in the very public, very difficult life she lived, which she tried her best to make meaningful.
I'm not sure if the rest of the 39 people I hope to write about will reflect all three of my criteria, but Diana certainly did, and does. May she rest in peace.