In my life, I've learned one lesson above all others. Everything in this universe happens for a reason. As I watched the world mourn in September, both the differences and the similarities of two particular lives stood out in my mind. Princess Diana, a luminescent figure in the media, leaves us a story of glamour, rejection, weakness, strength, recovery, and compassion. Mother Teresa, less visible yet completely familiar, devoted every aspect of her life to comforting the needy and those that society would rather forget. An editorial cartoon in our newspaper accurately expressed my feelings about their passing. The sketch shows a smiling Mother Teresa, with her hands clasped in front of her. The caption reads, "When a Princess dies, all the world mourns. When a Saint dies, all heaven rejoices."
So, why did this happen? What hidden lesson is waiting for us?
Beyond the funerals and grieving, though, is another message, too powerful to ignore. It's also too great an opportunity to ignore. Although these women led vastly different lives, I heard again and again the same word used to describe them: humanitarian. The Princess of Wales stepped from the pedestal of royalty to take the hands of children and AIDS victims, sincere in her desire to relieve their suffering. However, each of her efforts were recorded by a fleet of media. The very medium that contributed to her end were the tool of salvation for the downtrodden who were touched by her humanity. The media became her greatest resource for their cause. The spotlight followed her and she guided it into their lives. Did she go to them because it would make the cameras flash? No. The cameras followed her every footstep, so she walked where the attention most needed to be.
Of course, Mother Teresa's life is the ultimate study in humanity and compassion. She spent her entire life, every moment, in unselfish service to the sick and afflicted. She laid her hands where others recoiled. No cameras recorded her sacrifices, yet the world came to know her. We knew her by her example. Remember that word: example. We sat in awe of this humble woman who shone with such pure goodness. Did she give all she had and more just so that, someday, a Princess would seek an audience with her, just as that same Princess had of the Pope? Were her goals to be world-renown? Did she ever imagine that her death would bring forth one of the grandest funerals ever seen in her country? Absolutely not. She looked upon suffering and ached for the sufferer. Mother Teresa asked for nothing in return.
We've seen the funeral processions, watched the wiping of tears, and seen the heads hanging low in grief. That's history now, as difficult as it can be to grasp. What do we do now? We collect our magazines and shake our heads as we carefully pack them away to be read by a later generation, hoping to explain our emotions better then. But is that where it ends? If we truly grieve the loss of these women on this earth, then we should do what is in our power to preserve their spirit. To forget what they held dear would be the greatest of tragedies.
In their death, Mother Teresa and Diana leave a door open. They wait for us to grasp that handle and walk into the worlds they left behind. It's a strange thing...before Diana's death, I didn't really understand that landmines continue to destroy and maim. Now, I've seen several intensive reports on this horror, and a cause that was dear to her. I am learning. I can act. I might not be able to pick up those children and hold them in their pain, but I can contribute of my own resources. A space has been left by Mother Teresa in the streets of India. The world has noticed it and the cries of those people are being heard, too. Although these women are sorely missed, their passing has brought opportunity to the downtrodden. That door stands open and they beckon to us, using the attention that is now rightfully being turned in their direction.
The term "volunteerism" is a popular one right now. What disturbs me is that it's such a sterile term for such a grand gesture. What does it mean? Sacrifice, yes. Risk, possibly. When you give of yourself, you allow someone to have a glimpse of your heart. Princess Diana and Mother Teresa discovered what the world's few true volunteers know. The personal rewards are indescribably deep and pure. So much more can exist for you than a simple "Thank You" and the only way to understand it is to experience it.
Remember that word? Example. What example have these women been to us? Did they do unto others as they would have others do unto them? I can only pray for such compassionate hands to reach to me in my times of need. What sort of example are you? At the end of your days, what words could be used to describe you? In reality, we do not get the second chances that the notorious Ebenezer Scrooge parades before us each Christmas.
Diana had the tools provided by the media. Mother Teresa had her profound kindness as a tool. What tool do you have? We each have tools, gifts given to us that are to be shared and not hoarded. If their deaths truly touched you, then it's time to unpack those tools and get them in good working order. Drag them out and take a good, strong look at your world. You are needed.
Kristyn Rose is a technical writer, who writes
science fiction in her spare time.