Friday, January 06, 2006

Meeting a Princess

Lavie and I had a meeting with a Princess today. Not just any princess, but The Princess.

The visit left me stunned. Let me explain...

Lavie has a favorite story about getting up early one morning with her father as a little girl. He is a bit of an anglophile and they had an important event to watch on the television. It was the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to the Prince of Wales. She can relieve the moment in hushed reverence. It was the most beautiful event she had ever experienced. Just watching the pomp and beauty of that moment changed her. She has been in love and awe of Princess Diana ever since. Lavie followed her ups and downs with the British media and her royal marriage, and her eventual discovery of the strong, compassionate and mature woman she was just learning to become. I remember the night we learned of the terrible accident she was in. Lavie sat glued to the television again with her father, now watching what would become the tragic closure of her beautiful life--and the heartrending funeral afterwards.

Lavie has collected quite a few Diana items, books, stamps, etc. over the years. She has devoured them all. So it was with some excitement that I spied a billboard announcing that a special exhibit about Diana would be coming to Houston's Museum of Natural Science. I kept it a secret intending to surprise her one day, but she found out quickly anyway.

Today we had a round of quarterly doctor's visits for Lavie's fibromyalgia monitoring. They are in the Texas Medical Center area, which just happens to be a few blocks away from where the Diana exhibit was being held--and soon would be closing. Lavie doesn't like driving in the maze of towers and constant construction in the area (and parking garages scare her) so I came along for my driving skills and a husband's tender support. We decided to make a dash over to the Diana exhibit between the scheduled visits.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. To confess, I'm not really as much of a Diana fan as Lavie is. I admire and deeply respect the work she and her foundation do around the world. She is a very inspiring person, but looking at some dresses isn't my idea of fun...however, as we entered the exhibition rooms, I couldn't help but feel we were entering into a sacred place.

We first passed through a gallery of tiaras. This was pretty interesting, but Lavie and I were surprised on just how un-glamorous they all looked. The diamonds and emeralds just didn't look that stunning. They looked grey and washed out. I know this is because they were old and the quality doesn't match the finer ones in the Royal collections (or the marketing blitz of our mall-jewelry stores--maybe we are jaded (no pun intended) today. The HMNS gem collection has a thousand-times more sparkle and splendor to it.

Next we moved into a gallery filled with items from Diana's childhood: letters, school notes, a child's blue typewriter, a uniform, a stuffed frog with her nametag stitched under it's nose...her ballet shoes, signed by classmates...her collection of small toy porcelain animal of which was a green turtle--just like the one Alvis has by her bed...a letter written to her "daddy" with each line in a different marker color. On the wall was a looped 35mm movie, grainy with time showing a little girl dancing, swimming, playing, being a little girl just like was at this moment I knew I was in trouble...I was getting a lump in my throat.

The next hall was dominated by the very same wedding dress Lavie watched Diana wear down the center isle of St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981. We stood only feet away from it. We walked around it. We admired it. Pictures and tv can't do it justice. Along side in the wall were displayed some photos of the English streets Diana's father had taken before the event. There was an official box for reception guests to take home pieces of the wedding cake in--how classy is that? It was incredible. I wondered with sadness what thoughts were in Diana's heart and mind as she wore that dress? Did she have any idea of what lay before her? Would she have gone through it if she had known?

Then we went into the dress room. This is what I had been dreading, and what surprised me. The dresses were works of art. What surprised me most was just how small and petite they were. I never would have know Diana was that small. In all the photographs and videos I have seen, she always looks so tall and strong and larger than life. Yet here I was and these dresses were so small and tiny next to me. I'm a tall and broad shouldered guy, but I always had Diana as a tall woman. Now I understood Diana in a very personal way. Diana, with her personality and cheer and energy made everything seem big...her personality and charisma magnified herself larger than she ever could be physically. Her down-to-earth nature mixed with her poise and grace, and her sharp eyes and wide smile just made her a giant--no matter where she was or who she stood by. The dresses were splendid. The cut and seamwork was precise and perfect. Not a stitch was out of place, nor a bead missing. Wow. The dresses were stunning. This is where I felt I met her. Lavie was in heaven. And in among the dresses and high-society outfits she had to wear was the mine-sweeping outfit she wore in her work supporting the eradication of land-mines. It was such a contrast, yet even here it, because it was her's worn with pride, it had a royal elegance about it and seemed to fit perfectly beside the others.

The next gallery led to a room that contained the original drafting manuscripts and score-sheets of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind." The song played over the speakers in the background while a video ran of her funeral procession. There was a pit in front of the screen filled with rose-petals. On the opposite wall was the eulogy given by her brother at the services and a copy of the draft he printed on his (inkjet!) printer. It had some very interesting lines edited out. I won't mention what they were, but I was surprised to see them in the draft.

Finally we exited into a room filled with the legacy of her charity work; from AIDS to leprosy to families of the incarcerated to the arts. She touched so many hearts, hands and lives. It was a real waste she couldn't be around to touch even more...but then...she was touching Lavie and I's even as we stood there in awe. Diana's work continues...with her foundation taking up where she was taken away from.

On the way out we passed by what I first thought was a large collection of her books. It looked like what you would image an English library might look like. Floor to ceiling books. Bound in wood with cast-iron hinges, books with dappled paint patterns on the edges. Gold gilded books. Leather bound books. Black stern books. Volumes and volumes and volumes. But as we passed by, we realized these were books of condolences sent to Diana's family from around the world. One book was opened to a page from a children's school in England...they had drawn pictures and written things that only could come from a child's heart. There was a book filled with kanji from Tokyo and in the middle of all the kanji, an English name and writing. Books from Auckland. Books from Canada. Books from India written in Hindi in their owners' hands. It was overwhelming to understand how many people, in how many locations had sent wishes of peace and thanks and grace to Diana's family.

Lavie and I left with reverent wonder--and now I now I can say, with all seriousness and respect--I got to meet a Princess today. And she touched and hugged me.

Wow. How cool is that?


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