The princess & the nun

Posted: August 28, 2007

TEN YEARS ago, Princess Diana's life was taken tragically in a tunnel in Paris. Hundreds of millions would watch the memorial. But then, as the world wept over Diana, the news arrived that Mother Teresa had died of cardiac arrest.

The irony was that while the world mourned the princess they conferred sainthood upon, they overlooked the real saint.

Now, 10 years later, concerts and articles are honoring the princess' life, but less is remembered about the nun. The death of Diana has been intensely scrutinized, when instead we would have been better served examining the life of another.

As beloved as she was for her angelic touch with those dying of AIDS, Diana's self-absorption has become legendary. As Tina Brown noted in her bestseller, Diana was at a loss as to why the Pakistani cardiologist she loved preferred his work to spending time with her.

St. Diana? Or a lover spurned? These are the extremes - but the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But there was no middle for St. Teresa. She was the kind of person who, finding a woman "half eaten by maggots and rats," sat with her while she died.

Part of the unprecedented outpouring for the 36-year-old Diana was due to her premature and tragic death, while Mother Teresa, at 87, had lived a long and exceptionally productive life. And, despite her frailties, Diana had a compassion motivated in no small part by the inspiration of her friendship with the nun.

Diana had a good heart - Mother Teresa a great life.

Were the glamour and sadness of the princess' life simply more compelling than the life of a nun in the slums of Calcutta? Do we dream more of being Princess Diana than Mother Teresa? After all, "happily ever after" is found in castles, not slums.

The nun disavowed fame and wealth, yet attracted money and power. The princess was glamorous, but suffered from a poor self-image. The nun wore a $1 sari and couldn't care less about the painful bunions on her mangled feet. The princess' dresses are displayed at the Althorp Museum for us to adore. The nun's blue and white sari went with her in her coffin.

One compassionate woman rejected commercialization because of her vows - the other embraced it because of her role as a princess, but also for its pleasures. As a people soaking in consumerism, is it any wonder that we would rather flood our lives with the lifestyle that embodies those glamorous things?

Yes, I know, we aren't all called to be nuns. But whoever we are, we are surely called to something larger than our own indulgences.

THAT'S WHY the reaction to the deaths of these two women speaks volumes of our age and who we've become.

Surveys tell us that if we had a choice of being smarter, stronger, more beautiful or famous, we pick fame - every time. Psychologists say our greatest need is to be loved - to be noticed in the crowd. The absurdity of our time of communications advances is that we have drifted apart and many of us, especially our teenagers, are more alone.

It used to be that you'd receive the love and reinforcement from parents, peers, teachers. Now, it comes from texting, chat rooms, MySpace and Facebook. And we'd certainly fancy it even more if it came from the paparazzi, the agents of such weighty periodicals as US and People. Why else would we be so enamored of the tragic lives of Lindsay, Paris, and, yes, Diana. Order me up what they have, but hold the scandal please!

Both the princess and nun left legacies, but one was celebrated more than the other. It is a commentary not on the death of the princess and the life of the nun, but on us. What does it say about us that many embrace the life of the princess rather than that of the nun? *

Les T. Csorba, the author of "Trust: The One Thing That Makes or Breaks a Leader," is an executive recruiter in Houston.

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