There are shadows that
are more significant than
what they are cast by.

(Ákos Fodor)
Seven Days that Made the World Weep

An Essay by Tamas Revbiro

This is the third time in an hour that I start writing this. The funeral is over, but there is something pounding inside me and does not allow me peace. I wrote one line, got up, had a coffee. Deleted that line, got up, picked up a book, tried to read. Wrote that line again. Deleted it again.

Now I'm trying it again.

She was bound to die.

She was bound to die for the sake of those who lived in the days that have passed since her death as I have. For the sake of those who felt the same while watching the pictures of the funeral, listening to Verdi's Requiem, Elton John's song and Saint Paul's words as I felt. For the sake of the lad in the uniform of the royal guard who tried to quell his tears while raising the coffin to his shoulders, and for the sake of those tens of thousands who waited in the park for hours and muttered the Lord's Prayer together with the archbishop on the giant screen.

She was bound to die, and we all knew that. Not because of the enormous voracity of the public, as her brother said in his blind rage on the first day. And not because of the fact that in her innocence and natural candor she was not able to defend herself. No — she died for us; playing the part unknowingly and unwillingly.

In the first week of September, tens of thousands of people went on a pilgrimage to visit the places where she used to live, and when they got there, they just stood and dawdled aimlessly. A grown man was lying on the pavement and wept uncontrollably. Mountains of flowers were compiled in front of public buildings by people who had the same vague and indistinct feeling as I had. Had I not returned from London two weeks earlier, I would have gone there myself. And I wouldn't have been able to tell the reason why, just like those people who were asked by the media.

I did not and do not feel guilty. I don't feel — and I think those millions gathered at the funeral didn't feel it either — that I chased her to death. I rather felt that somebody's fate had been fulfilled.

It is a disappointing, yet inevitable fact that man's fate can only be fulfilled by dying. But this particular death is exceptional. It is unique. It is extraordinary.

And not because it was the death of an extraordinary person. It is unique because with this death a new quality was born. We cannot yet know if it is ephemeral or long lasting, but these days at the end of the summer made an astonishing impact on mankind.

The royal family must have watched their stray lamb roaming about in the world. They could not be sure she wouldn't lure the wolves to the flock — a wolf cub was already there, sniffing around in her immediate vicinity.

She was a helpless stray lamb. In her television interview some two years ago, the adjective she most frequently used for herself was "daunted". She was bound to die in order to avoid causing severe harm to herself, to her family, to her country.

People liked her acts of charity, her support of hundreds of worthy causes, but this would not have been enough to bring about what has happened after her death. There have been millions of charities in the past century, and good causes have always had their supporters. It is quite normal for celebrities, for famous people to sponsor foundations, to go to charitable events like she did. She was only one of those celebrities. Unlike Albert Schweitzer, she did not found a hospital in Africa; unlike Mother Teresa, she did not stay in Calcutta to help the poor and the sick. Knowingly and willingly she did not sacrifice her life.

However, she did sacrifice in unknowingly and unwillingly. And not only for AIDS patients, lepers, or land mine victims. She sacrificed it for all those who take the slight risk of thinking things over.

This is how she became larger than life. In her life, she was hardly more than any movie star or supermodel. She had to die in order to raise the same feeling in so many people, so that this feeling would bring them together at a place on Earth, so that they cloud cry the tears they didn't cry for their own lives. In the Western world, it is a rare occasion to be able to cry real tears. In a world where Pepsi feeling is the standard, one can only afford crying when a close friend or relative is lost.

Those hundreds of thousands, even millions of people live their lives like anybody else. They snarl if they think somebody wants to take what they think is theirs. They are commanded by their little egos, guided by their own interests. In these days at the end of the summer, a common idea, the shared mourning reminded them of something more important than the individual. One cannot hate those who are driven to the railings of the palace by the same anguish as oneself. Relieved of the instinct of snarling, one becomes open to love.

She came closer to all those who mourned her openly. She grew up. In her death she called for and received an answer from God living in people. Her death made people come closer to each other, consequently come closer to God.

But she had to die to accomplish this.

The island of Montserrat had to be evacuated because of the volcano eruption. When the volcano calms down and people can move back home, they will have to build a new capital city. Somebody suggested that this new town be named Port Diana.

Man is trying to create a river bed for the unexpected deluge of emotions. He is trying to discharge it by using all kinds of symbols: bringing bouquets of flowers, standing in line for half a day to sign a book of condolences, giving names to towns. Otherwise his old way of life would not be sustainable any more; snarling could not go on.

It is hard to tolerate being close to God. But there is only one reason for this. We are not used to it.

Béla Hamvas, a great Hungarian spiritual writer states: "Looking back at the past two hundred years of history, one cannot help feeling a strange kind of anxiety. From generation to generation, there was a systematic disappearance of kings, high priests, noblemen, statesmen, scholars, soldiers, artists, and they either vanished altogether or they were replaced by some dubious, suspicious characters.

"Not the individual royal families disappeared, but the royal man; not the high clergy and nobility died out; they just withdrew and gave up their places. And most probably they did not do it out of weakness, but out of reason and prudence. They withdrew because mankind fell victim to a mysterious epidemic and became unworthy of their presence, undeserving to be consecrated by their rule."

Compared to those "dubious, suspicious characters", she represented a new and different quality. She did not know it and she did not want it, but now it is beyond any doubt that she was suitable for it. This is what she was suitable for.

Now the lesson is obvious for everyone: each and every one of us can decide what we do with the experience of these days at the end of the summer.

Published in the Hungarian literary weekly Élet és Irodalom
on 12. September 1997.

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