There are moments in our lives that we’ll never forget – ones where we’ll always remember where we were and how we felt when we heard a major piece of news.
I’ll always recall sitting in my geography class when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murder. I’ll always remember watching Channel One in the eighth grade and seeing bloodied children at the Oklahoma City bombing site. Seeing the front page of USA Today the day after John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash. Hearing on the radio about Columbine or about the president’s impeachment.
Forever burned on my brain are the sickness, utter helplessness and absolute grief I felt on the morning of Sept. 11.
And I’ll always remember driving in my car when I heard Princess Diana had been killed.
Saturday is the five-year anniversary of the death of the “People’s Princess,” an oft-chastised but powerful, elegant and enlightened member of the British royal family who captured the attention and admiration of people everywhere. Her death at 36 in a violent car accident in Paris stunned the world and dominated the news for months after.
Coverage of her life and death, like coverage of any major news event, has steadily decreased over time. In London, the seat of national despondency that bordered on hysteria, it will dominate headlines again this week but will eventually recede into memory.
This fall, it’s frivolous, ridiculous even, to reflect upon the departure of one famous person while we mourn the deaths of nearly 3,000 anonymous ones. But like Columbine or the impeachment of President Clinton, Diana’s death was a watershed event for a nation – the world, really – and the anniversary shouldn’t be completely ignored.
Di had a powerful voice, becoming an internationally recognized advocate for the abolishment of land mines. Despite her bitter divorce from Prince Charles and unflattering tabloid appearances, her leadership, fearlessness and style made her a role model for women, sort of a modern-day Jacqueline Kennedy. She ferociously defended her family’s privacy and avoided the paparazzi who some argue contributed to her fatal car accident.
She was a fairy tale come to life, and like a fairy tale, public fascination with her story did not end with her death. This is even evidenced five years later, with the publication of a new tell-all book by her loquacious former bodyguard.
Media fascination with figures like the former Princess of Wales will probably never die – it will just fade. On the anniversary of her death, it’s important to reflect on something that was so traumatic, even as we prepare to do it on a much larger scale in two weeks.
Speaking of the attacks
The Newark Star-Ledger and the New York Times reported Wednesday that a man on the New York City Medical Examiner’s official list of the dead and missing has been found alive in a Manhattan hospital with amnesia.
George V. Sims, 46, a sidewalk vendor who frequented the World Trade Center site, has no memory of the events of Sept. 11. His family reported Sims missing shortly after the terrorist attack, and his memory of them is spotty at best. All that remains for Sims is a jumbled mix of family memories, places and names.
Amazingly, while Sims was missing, his mother Anna refused to submit an application for victim’s compensation.
“We put off filing for a death certificate,” she told the New York Times. “We said we’ll wait a year.”
The wait, miraculously, is over.