Nineteen years ago today, I watched Princess Diana’s funeral. A week later, Mother Teresa’s. Many things struck me at the time. The contrasts and similarities of the lives and deaths of these two women intrigued me. Arguably the two most famous women in the world at the time–both of them famous for their humanitarianism, their love and compassion for the least fortunate among us. The deaths of these two women within one week of one another left the world in mourning.
Their funerals were probably the most unique in history. Certainly they must have been the largest, but their uniqueness goes much deeper than that. Had we ever before in one week seen two funerals in which lepers, the crippled and maimed, the homeless, the orphans, the poverty-stricken, victims of disease, the poorest of the poor participated along with royalty and dignitaries and famous personalities from the world over – all joining the funeral processions with the deepest respect and love for the one who passed? Had we ever seen even one such funeral?
In spite of their similarities, these women were as different as cheese-cake and beef jerky. One was a princess – a real princess – accustomed to beautiful gowns, jewels, riding in limousines, vacations on yachts off the South of France. The other was a nun who chose to live her life in the poorest slums of Calcutta and whose material assets totaled three saris, two pairs of sandals, and three rosaries. One was both wife and mother of kings. The other was also “married” to a king – Christ – and though she had no children, was still called “mother.” One was killed in the prime of life at the age of 36 in a violent car accident in a limo navigated by a drunk driver chased by a herd of hungry paparazzi with cameras flashing around her. The other died quietly in her bed of a heart attack at the ripe age of 87 with nary a camera in sight.
I think the most important thing these two women did was remind us of the importance of being involved in making the world a better place. And that in that endeavor, there’s a place for all of us. Every last one of us.
“What can I do?” “I” can move mountains because “I” am not one – “I” am millions! World-wide, “I” am billions. There are over 300 million people in America alone. If only half of us use one hour a week – just one hour – to carry on the torch Princess Diana and Mother Theresa lit for us, that’s 150 million hours a week, every week devoted to carrying on their work. If the other half donates just $1.00 a week, that’s $150 million dollars a week, every week. What can I do? I can pick up that torch. I can change the world!
I think the legacy of these two women is a challenge to the people of the world. It is a challenge to dissolve the barriers which divide us. A challenge to let the love and compassion in our hearts unite us. A challenge to dare to understand that national, religious, and class boundaries are only man-made illusions. That in reality we – all of us – are simply people. We could light up the world with that torch.
How do you answer the question, “What can I do?”