20 years after her tragic death in an automobile accident in Paris, Princess Diana remains an important historical figure. The wounds for all of us are still fresh from that fateful day. Diana embodied the seismic shift of a world coming apart. She represented everything the world needed: love, compassion, grace, and humility.
As beautiful as she was, Diana was also imperfect. She had an eating disorder, was needy, and desperately wanted someone to truly love her often straining those around her in her pursuits. A shy daughter of an English Earl, the dreamy 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer married unwittingly to a man who was forced to give up his own true love for a more suitable match as dictated by the Monarchy. Love and feelings had nothing to do with it. Though Charles and Diana’s circumstances were tame by comparison with past Royal coupling arrangements, nonetheless, their experience was a painful situation in any time.
At first, Diana Spencer found the attention of the press amusing and even liked it. But that soon wore off as she was thrust into the public eye becoming a prisoner, a passionate young woman suffocated by the heavy expectations of a fusty, royal family born into privilege, resolute in the knowledge that all they are cannot be destroyed.
I remember Princess Diana, growing up. Her short, feathered hair and bright, blue eyes exposed the goodness of her soul and the pain inside her heart. In the summer of 1984, my mother and I cut our hair off just like the Princess. My father wasn’t happy because he liked his wife to have long locks. It was a moment I shared with my mother when we both felt the same giddy excitement as mother and daughter going to the salon to have our hair cut like Princess Diana.
I suppose my mother saw her own feelings reflected through Diana’s simmering blue eyes. Like Diana, my mother was unhappy in her marriage and didn’t show it but through tears that would escape her now and then. I had other reasons for cutting my hair just like Diana. I loved who she was, trying to make things work as best as she could, through tears. Sure, she had everything. Sure, she was beautiful. But I saw something inside her that was raging. I would not have been able to express these words at 9-years-old, but years later I understood that rage. What was not known or said in public spoke volumes to women everywhere.
Counter to the typical Monarchy’s raising of children, Diana showed the world how devoted she was when she became a mother to two beautiful boys, openly displaying her affection, taking them to school, and constantly playing with them. In high school, I fell in love with the Princess all over again as she went out on her own and began her charity work. There is no one that could quite replicate the conviction Diana had in her voice underneath the soft British accent as she spoke on behalf of AIDS’ victims. Princess Diana was never afraid to touch and hold and console and love on anyone who was suffering. That is why she became the ‘People’s Princess’.
Diana Spencer shares the same birth year (1961) with many other notable members of Generation X; Peter Jackson, Michael J. Fox, Brent Eastwood Ellis, Douglas Coupland, Enya, Martin Gore, Henry Rollins, Boy George, Julia Gillard, and Barack Obama. 1961 marks not only the beginning of what most historians agree as the beginning of Generation X, but a watershed year of political and cultural changes that correspond with this particular generation: the rising of a great wall that divided Germany into east and west, the introduction of the birth control pill which would lead to sexual revolution, the Cuban missile crisis and an accelerated shift away from post-World War II prosperity into the Cold War, the moon landing, the environmental crisis of the 1970s, and the free-wheeling decadence of the colorful, synthesized 1980s.
Diana was special because she had a relentless heart. She changed everything because it had to be done and she had to do it, her way. Her life force was captured in the hearts and souls of the people. Perhaps it was this reality that would eventually lead to her untimely death. I remember seeing Diana on television and in my mother’s People magazines. I watched a 19-year-old girl grow up and become a figure that eclipsed the grounds of Buckingham Palace and the British Monarchy and ultimately, inspire the people of the world to make it better.