All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest

Paul Simon

She came in with pomp, she left with circumstance.

At her wedding, cameras rolled, and thousands cheered outside Westminster Abbey. At her funeral, cameras rolled, and millions mourned outside Westminster Abbey.

There were tears from strangers at both events, just as there was sympathy from strangers at her crumbling love life and outrage from strangers at her death last week in a car wreck in Paris.

In endless TV and newspaper tributes, grief dripped from sentences written by people who never shook her hand.

At the funeral, Elton John sang “Candle in the Wind,” which was originally written for Marilyn Monroe.

It seems to me you lived your life

br> like a candle in the wind . . .

It’s a sad and simple image, perfect for the fallen Princess Diana. But the key word is not the noun but the verb.

It “seems.”

Who really knows?

A sad situation

If someone told you a story of a blue-collar couple who married, had kids, cheated on each other and divorced, with the man sneaking off with an old flame and the woman jet-setting with a son-of-a-rich-man playboy, only to die in a car driven by a guy allegedly too drunk to walk a straight line, what would your reaction be? Sympathy? Or a “they should have known better” dismissal?

But now, if that same couple becomes a prince and princess — a beautiful princess at that — and the children are heirs to the throne, and the husband is a cold fish, and the wife is seeking love in the arms of a man who can whisk her away from hounding photographers . . .

Well, you see where this is going. The first story happens every day. The second happens only in the movies. And you know how we love movies.

I have always believed people saw in Diana what they wanted to see. I also believe if she were the same person with an ugly face or a fat body, she would never have been so embraced. That’s sad. But we live in a world of images, and hers was polished to a fetching shine. So some of us, unhappy in our own lives, took joy in believing a fairy tale. Others took joy in watching a fairy tale collapse. Either way, it was perception, not reality.

There was a letter in USA Today last week from a Texas man who once met the princess in a receiving line. He wrote how she asked him to say “Y’all,” then smiled and moved on. “This was Diana’s magic,” he gushed in his letter. “She could make commoners feel like royalty.”

Now, for all he knows, she could have been laughing inside at his accent. Besides, since when are we “commoners”? Would this same man meet a snooty American and say, “Who do you think you are?”

We see what we want to see. So when news came of the limo driver’s drunkenness, many dismissed it as secondary. The paparazzi killed her. That’s what we wanted to believe, because that’s a better — and more tragic — ending to the movie.

But believing something does not make it so.

A final good-bye

Now, under any circumstance, Diana’s death was tragic. So were the deaths of seven innocent Israelis, killed when three nail bombs exploded on a crowded shopping street last week. So were the people in our own city who died last week in car crashes or robberies.

But you will see no worldwide tributes to these people. It is part of the unfairness of a society where fame rules, where the media seem to report less and emote more, where everyone wants to be part of a blockbuster event.

So the same cameras that hounded Diana in life were there Saturday to capture her burial. The same countries that hated the British monarchy for its colonization and blue-blooded rule, were waving sad farewells to a could-have-been queen. And the same strangers who insisted Diana had a right to her emotions were clucking their tongues at the royal family for not showing theirs.

She came to us in a massive TV wedding, she leaves us in a massive TV funeral. The first lines of that original Elton John song — which he changed for Diana
— are the ones that might have been most fitting.

Good-bye Norma Jean br> though I never knew you at all . . .

Who out there, with tears on their cheeks, really knew her? It doesn’t seem to matter. We watch the spectacle, we see what we want to see, and we change the channel, looking for another fairy tale to believe in.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Tuesdays With Morrie” tonight, 7:30-8:30, Borders, Dearborn and Tuesday, 7-8 p.m., Barnes & Noble, West Bloomfield.

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