In the midst of war and disaster, there is a spot of joy in the world today, and that is in merry old England, where a handsome prince is marrying his one true love, and they will live happily ever after.
It’s easy to be a cynic, and with the history of England’s royal family, especially so, since that young prince’s father, in the tradition of blind and batty men through time immemorial, did not realize the jewel he had in the young prince’s mother until it was too late, but I still believe in happily ever after, don’t you? No matter who is getting married, there is always something magical about a wedding, the idea of young love blossoming through time and two people growing old together.
Those who are older than I remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. I have memories of two other moments in history and where I was: the day Princess Diana was married and the day Princess Diana died. I was living in Manhattan that hot summer of 1981, exploring the world of finance, and to my father’s consternation, was sharing a loft with four college friends in the South Street Seaport neighborhood back when it was still largely the aromatic domain of fish sellers. I was fascinated by this beautiful young girl who would be Queen, in part because she was younger than I but clearly on a much faster track to marriage and motherhood.
I was never a huge royal watcher, but Princess Diana had a grace and beauty that commanded attention, and when she started engaging in acts of goodwill and ambassadorship, she became even more of a hero to young women of all ages. I loved the way she held babies with AIDS and comforted dying patients in hospitals throughout the world. She even knew how to bust a move, and the world watched, thoroughly entertained, as she danced with John Travolta at the White House.
But it was when she became a mother that she truly became an icon, at least to me, because she had a strength that allowed her to break the stuffy confines of royal life and show her two young boys how to have fun. She took them on roller coasters and boats and allowed them to do things that gave them skinned knees, the good stuff of boyhood everywhere, future King of England and spare heir or not.
And then there was that terrible day in August, 1997. We were in Long Island, packing up boxes on a hot and humid day and preparing to move to our new home in West Windsor, New Jersey. It was the day after Katie’s birthday; she had just turned seven, and Molly was still only three. And then the newsflash came on with the announcement of that terrible car crash in Paris, and Princess Diana was fighting for her life. Then, not too much later, came word that she had succumbed to her injuries. And all I could think about was those two young motherless boys.
My heart just broke as I thought about what the future would hold for them without the woman who loved them best to guide and nurture them through their lives.
One of my favorite writers is Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer, and one of my favorite stories is the one where he writes about time travelers who go back to the dinosaur age. They are told to not step off the path because you may destroy a living thing and that could alter the course of world history. So of course, someone does exactly that, and when the time vessel returns to present day Earth, nothing is the same — people are less literate and aware, society has regressed, and the destruction of a sole, beautiful butterfly, found dead on the bottom of someone’s shoe, has forever altered the course of mankind.
Like the bright and beautiful butterfly in Bradbury’s story, I wonder what would have happened had Princess Diana not died so young and so tragically, and how much more light and good she would have brought into the world. She gave a face to compassion for the sick and the suffering. She could and should have done so much more. True, she had her personal demons and the most difficult in-laws in the world, much less the shadow of that perpetual other woman, but she was still so young and headed into a maturity that would have brought even more sunshine into the darkness.
As for the event that’s being called the wedding of the century, it’s good to see the joy on the face of the woman who captured the heart of a prince and the joy on his face as well. It is right to hope that the beautiful Kate can help Prince William fill the hole in his heart left by the death of his mother but sad, so sad, to think that the first woman the young prince loved will not be there to witness his happiness. It is fitting to wish the happily ever after for her son that Princess Diana never had the chance to realize.