The people in my life, past and present, keep telling me I have a good memory. I guess that it’s true, but that can be a curse sometimes. One such of a day was twenty years ago this day, August 30, 1997.
I was watching college football games, as it was the first day of the season that would stretch into the first days of 1998, with a senior from Tennessee named Peyton Manning being the talk of the collegiate pigskin world. I had gotten what they call these days a desktop computer the Christmas before, and spent evenings reading online watching the various ball games, occasionally sipping on some beer as the nights wore on that year.
Before 10pm that evening, I had seen a piece of breaking news on America Online, and immediately went searching for my remote to change the channel. (I’m not sure it was the first piece of breaking news I’d ever seen on the computer and not TV, but it was one of the first.) Princess Diana had been seriously injured in automobile accident in Paris. Our cable system had the relatively new MSNBC and the more established CNN on it, but not Fox News as of yet, as it was less than a year old at that point in time.
The news outlets were saying her condition was serious, but not critical. I had remembered that when the prime minister of Israel (Yitzhak Rabin) had been assassinated a couple of years prior, that they used the term serious as they use critical here, so I knew to stay tuned and not dismiss the lack of alarm the news stations were giving off. Just after 11:30 our time that Saturday night, the tragic news came. Princess Diana had been killed.
The rest of the week was a blur, the first week of the NFL season and the Labor Day weekend – I couldn’t tell you who the Bucs played to start their season and whether or not they won without looking it up. (For the record, the Bucs beat the 49ers 13-6 in a game that would signal a turn-around in the franchise that culminated in a Super Bowl win in early 2003.)
Diana was eulogized and buried September 6th, which was my 26th birthday, definitely the most somber such day in my life. Though I hate watching funerals, I got up early and watched Diana’s farewell that morning, which was all over network TV despite the earliness of the hour.
I’ve never been a big opera buff, but when Lynne Dawson let loose with that “Verdi Requiem” midway through the service, holy mackerel, it was the perfect piece of music to express the grief of the world at that moment. I have to admit my eyes got a bit moist, which I guess is the whole point of funerals. Elton John reworked “Candle In The Wind” into a song that perfectly eulogized the Princess, which got my water works going again.
I’m Irish-American. My mother often tells me about my grandfather being arrested as a boy in the early 20th century waving the Irish flag in Ireland by the British who occupied the country at the time. It’s not like I hate everything that’s British, though the Royal Family comes off a bit stuffy and cold to me at times. That being said, it was hard not to see that a nation was in shock, mourning, and looking for answers.
Diana gave off the impression that she was the “cool kid” in that family, a breath of fresh air in a very stale group of people in an outdated monarchy. The public will always wonder if Diana’s death in Paris was the accident the press said it was, caused by the paparazzi, or if something far more sinister was at work.
All in all, a sad time for the world. Princes Harry and William lost their mother way too soon, and their mother would be very pleased in the men they’ve become.