Magazine article Insight on the News

Self-Analysis in the Prism of Popular Icons

Magazine article Insight on the News

Self-Analysis in the Prism of Popular Icons

Article excerpt

One woman was tall, and elegant in designer chic. The other was short, and dressed for nursing the sick, enfolded in a blue and white sari. The tall woman was young. The short woman was old. The young woman was physically beautiful. The old woman was not, but in her wizened and wrinkled old age, beauty was beside the point.

Princess Diana was royal; Mother Teresa was saintly Both women were global icons, recognized by everyone.

How cheeky of God to have them both die within days of each other so that we can contrast and compare their qualities -- and match our own against them. Or maybe it was an example of God's infinite sense of humor to mock our sense of unreality.

The two women were as fascinating for the lives they led as we were for the ways we mourned them as projections of our hopes and wishes, our dreams and aspirations, our fears and rejections. Dichotomies abound -- yin and yang, spiritual and material, stoicism and hedonism, self-sacrifice and self-indulgence, inner radiance and external glamour.

Mother Teresa appealed to noble spiritual instincts while Princess Diana evoked baser secular desires. But given all the givens, which we could perceive mostly through a Iens brightly, few of us wanted to be either Princess Diana or Mother Teresa. Discard for a moment issues of virtue and vice, spiritual splendor and material glory. Who wants to live life on such narrow planes of human experience?

We can enjoy fantasizing about their lives without doing their arduous or glamorous work, enduring the pain of service or the annoyance of always being on exhibition.

No one disputes the good and brave work of Mother Teresa, but not many that I know envied her chaste life. She protected the bodies of others while never risking her own in a personal encounter with physical love. From a psychological point of view, could it be easier to tend to the disorderly dirt and disease of others than to confront the weaknesses of our own bodies? Mother Teresa covered herself with a nun's robe when she tended the naked and the dying in Calcutta.

Diana, by contrast, was obsessed with her body. She gorged on food only to throw it up so that she could maintain her thin frame. She decorated her body with the latest fashion and finest jewels for us all to admire. …

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