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A Memory of Lady Di

(Twenty years after the death of the Princess Diana, I am re-printing a short piece about her from a few years ago.)

Statue of Liberty Flame.JPGThe French authorities seem to have accepted that the Statue of Liberty flame on the banks of the Seine has become a widely beloved memorial to Princess Diana, popularly called “Lady Di” here. The flame itself — an exact replica of the one that stands in New York Harbor — was made by the same guild of Gallic artisans who crafted the original Lady Liberty, and who restored her several decades ago. It stands above the tunnel in which Diana’s fatal traffic accident occurred on August 31, 1997.

We flew back to Paris from our Hanover summer that year after having watched Diana’s funeral at the break of dawn. Her brother’s eulogy was one for the ages. After our arrival, jetlag kicked in and at about 3am Elizabeth and I and our seven-month-old son found ourselves unable to sleep. We strapped the little guy into a Baby Bjorn and spontaneously decided to go to the site of Princess Di’s accident, which is a little more than a mile from our apartment. I don’t think we had ever before or have ever since gone on a middle-of-the-night walk in Paris. In some curious way we were drawn to the place, as we found hundreds of other people were, too. We could leave no flowers at that hour, but there was solace in understanding that our own emotions were widely shared.

A good friend repeatedly asks what Princess Diana did to deserve such adulation. The better question is what it is about her that moved so many people, as she still does.

Princess Di Memorial.JPG

Addendum: We regularly bike and drive by the site. It stands near the Pont D’Alma at the bottom of avenue du Président Wilson, where an excellent open-air market is held each Wednesday and Saturday. There are always people standing reverently near the flame.

Addendum: A longtime reader writes in:

Her genuineness survived all.

She was interviewed, one time, while visiting a hospital in India, and she held a little girl while responding to the reporter. I remember the natural and unscripted tenderness with which she stroked the child’s hair — in the same almost unconscious manner we’d do with our own children. To have seen those few moments was to know that her causes hadn’t been chosen for publicity value. She cared about other people; she cared about ending suffering, as much as is possible to do.

I cried for a week after she died. I remember feeling like an old nurse in a Victorian novel, saying to myself, “I was here when she married and here to see her funeral.”

Only on TV, of course. I couldn’t stop watching the coverage, that awful week, and every time a film loop came on of her bending to her children, on a balcony, while waving to the public, I started sobbing all over again. She was a real mother; not the sort who can hardly wait to hand the kids over to nannies before running out to have fun.

It was a crime what was done to her; that gormless idiot who couldn’t stand up to his parents when it could have saved a world of pain.

But I guess those boys were destined to be born and they seem—even Harry, now—to have turned out OK. In my belief system, at least, she sees and knows that.

But if we still miss her so painfully—God only knows how they dealt with it.

Hoping there’ll never be a King Charles. But I doubt he has any grace at all anywhere in him. At least he won’t be our monarch. Good thing we broke away in time…


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