Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Princess Diana, Barack Obama, and the fools on the hill

When Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris, I wasn't in England so I didn't see all the newspaper headlines, or all the news programmes on TV. But I did see and hear some news from abroad.

When Diana died, the Queen refused or didn't allow the flag at Buckingham Palace to be lowered to half mast. She apparently stood on ceremony and took the view that because Diana was not a Royal, having been divorced from Charles, she was not entitled to the benefit of a lowered flag.

Soon, members of the public started to congregate outside Buckingham Palace. And people started to send flowers. And the numbers of wreaths and bunches of flowers and the numbers outside the palace rose and rose until they became a tide of public sentiment.

And in the end, the Queen ordered the flag to be lowered, and the public breathed out a little and continued their public keening and mourning.

Then the critics started to look at Diana's life. The pro-Diana critics pointed to how she had held AIDS patients; how she had stood in a minefield (no doubt a cleared minefield) dressed in mine-clearing protective clothing, protesting the number of mines lying around the world.

And the anti-Diana critics pointed out how she had a talent for publicity and spent a fortune on clothes, and had led the life of a celebrity.

And the anti-Diana critics called the public dupes for following a false star, and predatory for wanting to grab their own little 15 minutes of fame by stepping forward to lay a wreath at the Palace gates, or to stand in the crowd waiting and hoping for the TV camera to pick them out.

I didn't see it that way. I saw that the mass of people were yearning for something. Diana represented a warm touch, a human reaching-out, an attempt to bridge between people, and she was now dead. And where was anyone else among royalty or politicians or public figures of any kind who could lift the spirits just a little bit and bring people together as a force for good and for caring and for all the things that warm the heart?  There wasn't anyone - so they cried.

And to think otherwise is to denigrate, to slag off those millions of people who mourned her.

I have read several articles voicing uneasiness about Barack Obama and the fervour with which people are looking to him as the great hope.

It's a good cautionary note. We have to beware of saviours. We have to know who is a fanatic and who is an agent for good and who is not.

But we have to be aware that the desire for change for the good is a wonderful and powerful feeling. It does not arise the hearts of fools and dupes only. It arises in the hearts and heads of people who have been through personal hardships and tragedies - who are fools on the hill and want a better society -  a society where social justice is a continuing touchstone.

So it is 'down' with ridicule and self-loathing and the scrabble for the top, and 'up' with caring and hope.

Therefore in a triumph of irony in history, it is particularly moving that at the very time when we ask for these things, we are tested - tested by the worst financial crisis in a (fill in the blank here) years.

Because if anything is guaranteed to test the limits of one man's care for another, it is when it hits his pocket.

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