I think we were all taken by surprise – watching day after day in mounting disbelief. Watching those people standing patiently, waiting 7,8,9,10,11 hours in line , just to sign a condolence book. And not just one book, scores of books at every embassy around the world – thousands of people in Los Angeles alone, lining up all week.
One after another, they waited, quietly murmuring, “I didn’t realize how deeply I’d be touched.”
And then the funeral – 2 1/2 billion people in 100 countries watched. Then 350 calls an hour began pouring in to a remarkable tzedakah hot line – over a billion dollars raised. One anonymous gift alone over $4 million.
She may have been called “Princess Diana,” but to the 60 million people of Britain, she will forever be the Queen of Hearts. And then, just 5 days after the death of the Fairy Princess – the death of the Saint. Saint of the Gutters they called her – winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – known to millions merely as “the mother,” after a lifetime of ministering to the sick, the poor, the dying – the very embodiment of charity and goodness, of self-sacrifice and pious dedication.
And once again they came as on a pilgrimage to her bier – lining up thousand after thousand to see her and bid her farewell – joining silent prayers together as the world sighed with grief.
Diana and Teresa – 36 and 87 – half a century apart in age – 5 days apart in death – “My God,” you say, “How more dissimilar could two women possibly appear to be?”
Diana lived among the richest of the rich, in a London palace. Teresa among the poorest of the poor, in the slums of Calcutta.
When Diana died, she was reportedly wearing one ring given her that very night by her boyfriend Dodi Fayed that was worth several hundred thousand dollars. When Teresa died, all she owned to her name were a pair of sandals, a sweater and two pair of glasses.
How different could they be; and yet… this past June they met in, of all places, the Bronx – in front of a hospital, and they embraced. A joining of two hearts and two souls on a level that transcended social status, and instead reflected a much profounder truth about the the things that really matter in life.
They were already linked in life before they were linked in death. In fact, just last year a poll conducted by London’s Daily Mail placed them first and second as the world’s most caring people? First and second – and they died in the same week. How could we not link them together? How could we not search for shared meaning in their lives as in their deaths?
What was it about Diana that captured the hearts of literally billions? Of course Shakespeare himself couldn’t have written a more complex and compelling tragedy.
1. First the fairy tale wedding – 19 year old natural beauty gets married with a billion watching.
2. Then there was her refreshing slant on royalty.
3. Then the fall from grace; imagine the humiliation and embarrassment of the entire world knowing your husband never loved you, always loved another, and was having an affair with the real love of his life throughout your marriage?
4. Kicked out of Windsor Palace – stripped of her royal title, cast off into the trash heap of British royal history – or so it seemed.
5. Then rising like a phoenix from the ashes – rebirth, renewal (HH themes) – the remarkable inner strength to look the world squarely in the eye and like a Biblical hero proclaim HINENI – “Here I am, and here I’ll stay.”
6. She became the single most powerful female role model on earth – the most photographed woman in the world – forty-two times on the cover of PEOPLE magazine. For every wife/woman who has been cheated on by her man; for every woman whose mother in-law treated her as not good enough for her son; for every woman who has suffered, mourned losses, fought over custody or raised kids as a single mother – Diana stood proudly as a symbol of personal triumph in the face of enormous pressure, and public humiliation.
7. That’s one of the reasons why her life took on epic proportions with billions throughout the world.
8. But that’s not where the real message lies. There is a story told of William Booth, a great preacher of the early 20th century (and founder of the Salvation Army). He was once told by a wealthy philanthropist that he would pay for a telegram to be sent all over the world if he could keep it down to ONE WORD. So after much thought, he finally said, “OTHERS.” THAT is surely the secret. After all, what made Teresa, this tiny, frail, diminutive woman in a nun’s outfit, one of the most powerful moral forces on earth? Commitment to the poor, unfailing dedication to doing God’s work – upholding the fallen, healing the sick, freeing those captive by poverty. Championing the cause of those most vulnerable in society – speaking out for those who had no voice; standing up for those who had no legs of their own. In one word: “OTHERS.”
9. And that is exactly what made Diana beloved as well. OTHERS – great and small, rich and poor, glamorous and broken. OTHERS. Think of how unprecedented was her funeral – 2,000 seats in Westminster Abbey – and fully one quarter of them – 500 seats were given over to representatives of her charities. The Midrash teaches that the phrase from Psalms “TZADIK KATAMAR YIFRAH – the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree” means that when someone performs one act of Tzedakah – the fruit of that act is multiplied a thousand times like the dates on a flourishing palm. Diana & Teresa – tzadik katamar yifrah. 14,000 came to a service for Diana in Central Park. Why did they come? Richard Thomas, 47 a Scottish-born New Yorker said, “More than anything I came to say goodbye to someone who cared about the poor and needy, who was rich and privileged enough not to have to.”
10. Two women worlds apart – yet linked in the most important, most significant, most profound of all places – linked in the heart and linked in the soul. Linked by their commitment to OTHERS. How can we not think of Diana and Teresa on the High Holidays? Because what we do here only matters if has an impact there. Transforming the self, truly only matters when it touches the lives of OTHERS. And that’s what both of their lives were about.
Diana & Teresa – a Protestant and a Catholic. Are where is the Jew? Well, in the midst of that remarkable tragic week – the death of Princess Diana followed by the death of Mother Teresa – another death of a renown public figure went virtually unnoticed. Yes, he was a Jewish, and he died the exact same week, at the age of 92. He had survived the death camps of the holocaust; emigrated to America where he became one of the most renown psychiatrists of the modern age – creating Logotherapy – a form of therapy he developed while languishing in the concentration camp. His name was VICTOR FRANKEL – and his most profound book is called, MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING.
Frankel wrote that during the Holocaust the Nazis took everything away from him except one thing – “The last of human freedoms; the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, and therefore to choose one’s own destiny.” That is the essence of Frankel’s teaching – that for our lives to matter, they must be lives of meaning. And it is that very meaning to life, a life directed toward OTHERS in a meaningful way, which transcends social status – rich or poor, Diana or Teresa, you or me.
Perhaps the ancient worlds greatest philosopher, PLATO once said: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when we are afraid of the light.” Diana and Teresa, both stood up proudly in the light. The glare of the public eye (even perhaps to the price of Diana’s death), and more importantly to the light of God – the Divine plan for humanity.
The Biblical proverb teaches: TZEDAKAH HEETZIL MEMAVET – Tzedakah rescues from death. So the rabbis of the Talmud ask how? how can Tzedakah really rescue from death? They answer because though the body may die (as all eventually must), acts of tzedakah done during our life – rescue our souls, the memory of who we really were in life from the obscurity of the grave. Through acts of tzedakah we demonstrate the things that matter most in life, and even death can never take that away.
In the New Year ahead – everytime you think of Diana and Teresa, remember Victor as well. Remember that all of them shared the common passion of discovering life’s meaning through one vehicle – “Others.” We are taught in the Torah that our mission in life is to be an OR LAGOYIM – a light to the world. Now that the remarkable pomp and drama is over – the horse-drawn funeral carriages have past, the might have been laid to rest – our challenge is to carry on the light. That is why the Biblical poet declared thousands of years ago, NISHMAT ADAM, NER ADONAI – “THE HUMAN SOUL IS GOD’S LIGHT.”
Now it’s up to you to let it shine.