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Passages of Great (Wo)Men: Princess Diana

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I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news that Princess Diana had died.  It was about 1 or 2am and I was out at a club supporting my boyfriend at the time, a jazz violinist, who was playing a gig with his band.  I was most certainly jolted, more so as time went on, and I was surprised how emotionally entangled I was.  My reactions to her death were a complex mixture of sorrow for her boys, disgust at any role the paparazzi had played, deep respect for what she stood for and the very human struggles she endured.  I remember him asking, “Why are you so upset about her death anyway?”  While his questioning gave me pause, it forced me to illustrate why.  The outpouring of love and mourning surrounding her untimely death was unprecedented. I am sure the reasons behind such a visceral reaction from the masses were the same as mine.  Why was I so upset about her death?  Here’s why:

The timing of her entry into the monarchy seemed simultaneously perfect and long overdue.  Any subject of the queen could attest that the monarchy was staid and disconnected from the people, cold and unfeeling, and too steeped in tradition almost to have outlasted its purpose.  Princess Diana encapsulated everything that the monarchy was not.  While they were often accused of being cold, aloof and uncaring, Princess Diana went out of her way to give her sons as normal a life as can be expected, not being ashamed to live and play with them in public (certain things were just “not done”), did extensive charity work and generally broke with protocol, and did so boldly, when her heart led her in the opposite direction. 

There are many who seem almost required to have untimely deaths to complete their fulfilled purpose and mission.  Diana, by way of countless examples, was a systems buster forcing people to re-examine old worn-out ways and false assumptions.  To be sure, her death elicited an immediate and pronounced hostility towards the monarchy, and much finger-pointing.  Who is to say had the monarch not been faced with the almost damning outpouring of love, would they not have felt it necessary to look at their institution with a more critical eye and re-order some of their values? It is as if she was placed in her position to shake Britain up and evolve them to a more humane place. 

Did she have to suffer for it?  Surely.  She had to have been incredibly isolated in her position, in her early 20’s, already known to be shy and insecure and confined by countless restrictions of certain ways to behave and act. There was an unexpected obsession with her from the very start, perhaps not so fortuitously, cursed by her namesake (Diana means “the hunted”) not to mention the very public and painful humiliation she must have endured being the “third” woman in a marriage where her husband’s heart was very clearly with another woman.  (“Well, there were three of us in the marriage so it was a bit crowded.”)

She had endured much pain, isolation, personal struggle and paid the ultimate price, but her presence on this planet and tragic exit seemed to take  Britain’s worn out notions and turn them on their head.  A monarchy known for having allergies to intense emotion and wordlessness when words were most needed was forced to modernize due to her indelible mark as she unlocked frozen hearts.

Upon her banishment and divorce Diana threw herself into charity work.  Princess Diana was a true INFP if ever there was one.  The depth of her empathy seemed boundless as she raised awareness for AIDS and land mines.  One has to remember that in the early ’80s there was still an enormous amount of misinformation and fear around AIDS.  She was instrumental and fearless in breaking down that veil and prejudice. 

This was a time when if someone found out they had AIDS and others found out, that person would be alienated due to fear. Diana not only brought these people out of the shadows of society, but gave them a human voice in the press showing their suffering from exile and the price of misinformation.  Her involvement in AIDS opened the way for more celebrities and people with AIDS to speak out. 

She was in so many ways the opposite of what the monarchy was and how they rolled; it is no wonder they felt the sting when millions were so deeply affected by her death.  I remember being especially moved in a mixture of ebullient defiance and internal applause when her brother Charles gave a very provocative and courageous eulogy, which he delivered quite unapologetically, as his heart moved him in the direction to thumb his nose at the archaic establishment in front of millions of people.  One could not help but notice the irony of such a perfect opportunity in which to be outspoken: when the entire world was watching and those being vaguely accused might especially prefer a predictable and stiff protocol; certainly, not one that would magnify the nature of their flaws.  Speech starts at 1:42.

I think that women, especially, could relate to some of her struggles, her flaws and the pull of her heart to adhere to everything that is natural to a woman.  To nurture, to heal, to give voice to the unheard, to protect her children to the nth degree, and to doggedly fight for her principles through actions, even (perhaps especially) when those actions did not conform to what others thought she should do or who she should be.  It is said that in a marriage, everything depends on the woman.  If you have a righteous woman and an evil man the light of the woman will bring blessing to the marriage and make it righteous.  Conversely, if a woman is not bringing light and living as an example, an evil woman paired with a righteous man, the marriage will similarly falter.  Overly simplistic, true or not, I think many women saw Princess Diana as someone who had suffered great pain, personal suffering and feelings of unworthiness yet still brought a tremendous amount of light to the world.  For many, she was not seen as perfect, but someone to whom we might aspire.  “The reason a decade hasn’t dimmed Diana’s memory,” says one woman attending a recent memorial, “is that she epitomized every facet of human frailty, and reached out in a very hostile world.”

“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
Princess Diana

“I’m aware that people I have loved and have died and are in the spirit world look after me…”.
Princess Diana

“My inner strength has never let me down, and my guides have taken such good care of me up there.”
Princess Diana

“I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved. I know that I can give love for a minute, for half an hour, for a day, for a month, but I can give. I am very happy to do that, I want to do that.”
Princess Diana

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Eminem – Another Prey of Addiction

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From yesterday’s poll, it was Eminem who said: 

“My brain just doesn’t know when to shut off. When I do something I have to do it all the way — that goes for music … everything. I have to push it to the extreme. That’s how I realized I have an addictive behavior. Somebody told me this once, that the thing that makes me bad is the same thing that makes me good at other things.”

Eminem talking more about his addiction:

 It’s comforting to know that there are other people who get the addiction struggle and can relate – this has been one of the most comforting things about talking to others who have prevailed over the grips of addiction.  Those who have always been moderate users don’t seem to understand and too often see it as a moral failing or a lack of willpower – you know, something easily remedied.  Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  One of my favourite experiences was when I was released from the hospital for alcohol poisioning a couple of years ago.  On my release form it stated the doctor’s recommendation at the bottom of my page for good health.  “Quit drinking.”, it said. 

As you can imagine, the clouds parted and angels immediately began singing.  Gee, why hadn’t I thought of that.  Brilliant.  Problem solved.

The truth is that addiction is extremely complex and mysterious.  I don’t profess to have the answers or the magic key but I do know that addiction is a soul-sucker and something that is put in our path (we all have addictions of some kind) in order to overcome.  Great men are not really made by their accomplishments or what they have achieved, but by what they have overcome.  Ask any now-liberated addict, ask Elie Wiesel, ask cancer survivors who were told by the doctor they had 6 months to live to which they responded, “F— off.” and are proudly walking down the street 10 years later.   I have always known I was a strong person at my core, but the test of addiction is not for pussies.  It is human nature to want to take the easy pill or the most comfortable route.  When we rely on substances to soften the blow or to escape parts of ourselves that we don’t accept (shyness, insecurities, anger, anxiety) we might be numbing or escaping some kind of momentary pain, but we are disconnecting from ourselves little by little and stunting growth.  Addiction is like putting the pause button on life.  I like to think of this life as school and a place where we come temporarily to learn lessons.  So if we’re just holding court or treading water, running to substances every time we don’t want to walk through something, what’s the point of being here?  That line from the Bob Dylan song bears repeating:  “He not busy being born is busy dying.”   It takes an enormous amount of bravery to be relentless about overcoming addiction – the grasp of which often eludes all rational thought.  There are armies of people who have tried intellectualizing their way out of the problem and it doesn’t seem to work.   All we know is that in many times it is so powerful that the gravest negative consequences are not remedies.  I remember in the early ’90s seeing Robert Downey Jr. on TV standing in the courtroom speaking to the judge about his multiple visits back to the courtroom.  I’ll never for get what he said. This poor guy, so bright and sensitive said to the judge:

“Your honor, I feel like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and I know it’s loaded but I can’t take it out.”

My heart went out to him then – I really felt his pain and frustration from a place of non-judgment and that was many years before I even had a thought about or experience with anything addictive.  I never could have imagined he might be foreshadowing my struggles to come.

A friend once told me when I was in the throes of the negative consequences and ill health of drinking, “You will always want to drink, but I promise you things will get better.”  Difficult to disagree with such logic, but 90% of the time not being able to rely on alcohol for relief  has been akin to taking a noonday stroll across hot coals.  This constant presence forces me to live in reality  rather than to keep running from it; and for extremely sensitive and aware individuals who feel things a little more deeply than they would like, reality isn’t always so bearable or as easy to rite off as just a bad day.  I know there are those who can relate. Choosing to walk through the pain of reality is a gift though.  It forces you to actually deal with or walk straight through things you are afraid of or don’t want to see or feel, which paradoxically disempowers them.

Band-aids are no longer an effective means of coasting through life.   I miss choosing the easy-way-out at times, but it’s too hard not to notice how the universe aligns to support you when you stop abandoning yourself.  Eminem and Robert Downey Jr. are both clean now and surely have different demons with which to deal, but the path they have chosen to take (the harder one) is nothing short of heroic.  I can say this because I am intimately connected with the struggle, the spirit required and the refusal to give up after repeatedly hitting wall after wall.  In fact, I have more respect for someone who has truly plummetd the depths and come out of challenges triumphant through their own mettle and perserverance over someone who has had a relatively easy life, not been forced to grow or transform and just glides along being a ‘good’ person.  One of the gifts of addiction, I think, is that the warning to pay attention often becomes so loud that it forces you to take that journey deeper into yourself.  Unless there is a huge reason or pressing need to do so, most people won’t take that journey. 

So in the words of our dear friend Ali G,  Mad Respek to those fighting the hard fight.