ST is famous.
He is known by just his initials, with no period after the letters. S and T have been fastened to him by the popular press. It is shorthand for the reason he is famous.
ST's breakthrough to the understanding of Space/Time, and his ability to explain this knowledge to make it accessible, have made him a modern day Einstein. Have made him even more popular than Einstein.
(Einstein himself, when once asked if he could explain his Theory of Relativity, admitted it would be difficult to do. He said, however, he could play it on his violin.)
ST has no such musical ability. He doesn't need it.
His words, his lectures, his essays printed in Time, The Economist, and Der Spiegel, have given clarity to chaos.
"Spirituality With Certitude" had been an initial headline from the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano (although ST doubted the translation).
"GOD FOR SURE" had screamed the tabloids (leaving ST - and everyone else - in no doubt at all).
His appearances on CNN insure top ten ratings the world over. His observations spread the oil of calm upon the troubled waters of a doubt-filled planet.
But with it comes the fame.
ST has one of the most photographed, most filmed, and most televised faces on earth. He can go nowhere without the attention of press and public. He must plan well in advance everything he does (which actually gives comfort to a man lacking in spontaneity). He is obliged to ponder the motive of every person he meets (which has contributed to his divorce from wife number one and wife number two).
ST must watch his actions, watch his words, and watch his back.
These three things are intensified during a day such as he is having now. With a phalanx of security personnel surrounding him, ST is trying to get through Heathrow airport, so he can attend the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.
A funeral to which he has a personal invitation.
From the Royal hand itself.
Without proper planning, (he received his invitation/summons just yesterday) even royal patronage can not spare him the crush of media and public, awaiting the arrival of every flight.
Especially if the arriving plane is a Concorde from America.
ST is being jostled, although it is by members of the security force, who are in turn being bumped and shoved not only
by the ravenous press, but by the overwhelming crush of people. Both the people legitimately here for arrivals and departures of their own, and the hoards of people swamping the airport to catch a glimpse of the Famous.
In addition to all this attention, there is also a barrage of requests from photographers and cameramen.
"Give us a glance, sir. Never mind the frigging TV."
"Over here, sir."
"Could you take off the dark glasses?"
"Perhaps a little wave, sir."
"Head up, if you don't mind, sir."
"Who the fuck is jolting my arm?"
"Can you security buggers move."
"BBC International means dick to me, Mate."
"This direction, sir. Oh, don't bloody well go there."
"A smile would be nice, sir."
"Could you stand under the Heathrow sign?"
However, this is nothing compared to the shouted queries from reporters and media commentators.
"How well did you know Diana?"
"Where are you staying?"
"Did you ever meet Dodi?"
"Should it be a State funeral?"
"They say she telephoned you. Any comment?"
"Were the Princess and Dodi getting married?"
"BBC International. Any possibility of an interview?"
"How long will you be in London?"
"Do you think the Queen has treated her shabby?"
"Do you think the photogs killed her?"
"They say the Royals welcome her back into their world only as a corpse. Do you agree?"
"Welcome to my world." ST sighs the words, but not loudly enough to be picked up by the forest of microphones.
Less than a day ago, his world consisted of the back yard of his Nova Scotia hideaway, and a running debate with himself about the merits of hour-old coffee. Wife Number Two (he realizes this term is a bit cruel, for her name is Miriam, and they parted amiably enough) swore coffee should be thrown away if it became an hour old. ST can't notice a difference, and wonders if it is a deficiency in him.
This was the height of his concern when his email, and his fax, dropped the invitation/summons into his lap. He had reacted as if the questionable hot coffee was dumped on him instead.
His stirred-up memories of Diana are also bittersweet. Particularly his recollections of her troubled phone calls. At first she would be full of apology for disturbing him, but this quickly gave way to a jumble of questions and gossip. She seemed to be forever asking advice, yet she had her decisions already made. Which never irritated him, and obviously never bothered her, for within a few months she would be on the phone again, and the cycle would commence.
ST wishes he could have had the chance to give her one last piece of advice. And that she would have taken it.
Stay in the hotel for the night.
His own hotel is already awaiting him.
There, with his assumed name and his laptop communications, he will patch together some semblance of order into the day. Perhaps even for the upcoming week-end.
His non-royal correspondence is stored and waiting. He is interested to get back to a garish letter from his university alumni. They plan some grand influx of graduates to coincide with the year 2000.
It will be his twenty-fifth reunion (ST wonders how that has happened), and although he has not attended any other, he now has an interest. They are certainly letting him know about it well in advance. He suspects it is a reward for being famous.
Whereas today is one of the impediments.
ST's security detail has been bolstered by a half dozen more officers, and they manage to bully him through the concourse. He sees a contingent of Bobbies clearing a path from the other direction. Just outside the set of glass doors, he notes the presence of a armoured personnel carrier. When the security guards and police join, there will be a corridor wide enough to make an escape. The press and cameras are being left behind. He can still see lights aimed in his direction (perhaps for a generic mob scene), but their attention will quickly be taken by the next flight to arrive.
The presence of so many uniforms brings the crowds to a halt. Both groups of officers herd them into the lobbies and lounges, and ST will soon have his own path to freedom.
Had he even a sliver of spontaneity in his being, he might bolt right now. Sprint around the uniforms, startle the remaining public, dash through the doors, and commandeer the army vehicle. Drive like a demon until he reaches his hotel.
ST actually remembers the first time he came close to being spontaneous. He was twenty-two, it involved a woman, and he only took a day and a half to decide what to do. He has, in all accuracy, never beaten this record.
And he won't be doing so today.
The head of his security meets the sergeant in charge of the Bobbies. After a short discussion, they decide to form a line on either side of him. The uniforms mingle as the officers link arms, and the sergeant escorts ST out of the building.
They pass the armoured personnel carrier - which, the sergeant explains, was diverted from its Terrorist patrol - and ST is quickly hustled into a waiting limousine. There are even motorcycle outriders at the ready, which ST has only experienced in Madrid and Moscow. Then, with sirens blaring, he is away.
There are millions of flowers.
Stacked in piles.
And higher still against the railings of the palaces.
ST is between two seas - a sea of flowers, and a sea of people.
The multiple colours, the green of leaves, the translucent reflection of cellophane, make the sea spreading before him appear as a technicolour hallucination.
And as he sets down his own bouquet, he bobs for his allotted minute in the human sea behind him. Like a bit of flotsam caught near shore, then whirled away by currants and eddies. A calm but brooding sea nudging him along.
ST is recognized (he could not, out of respect, put on any of his disguises), yet the most he receives is a nod and the occasional smile. He has become just a person to them. Like them, vulnerable before death. A shared humanity at last.
He is glad not to have purchased an ostentatious floral tribute, but one which settles nicely into the rest. He has not offered teddy bears or other stuffed toys. He has not written a note or penned a poem. He distrusts words to convey emotion.
Music - perhaps.
He wishes he could play or sing. Keen or wail. A mournful tune upon a violin. An air, a dirge, an exclamation upon the bagpipes. In saffron robes intoning a Tibetan chant, the Scrolls of the Dead held high.
But these things are not him. He nestles his flowers into the fragrant bed and straightens. He is neither a Roman Catholic, nor particularly religious, but he crosses himself, then turns away to make room for the thousands behind.
ST is troubled when one of those thousands speaks.
"Will you be going to the funeral, Guv?"
A burly man, tears dripping into his tangled beard, nods the direction with his head.
The question travels to too many ears to be ignored. The sad, patient shuffling of feet comes to a stop.
"Do you think we'll get the Queen's weather?"
"Do you know - " The man rubs his knuckles across his eyes. "Did you hear if she hurt for long?"
"I'm told she was unconscious from the moment of the crash."
"Her face ..."
"I don't know about - "
"But they tell you things."
"The injuries were in her chest. That's what killed her. Damage to her heart."
"When did you last see her, Guv?"
"A year ago. Almost to the day."
"Up there." It is now his turn to nod directions with his head. "At her home."
"Did you know the bloke she was with?"
"Never met him."
"Think she was in love?"
"We didn't confide like that. Your guess is as good as mine."
"Bastard photographers might as well put a gun to her head."
"They won't show here today. You're safe."
Oddly, ST does feel safe. In the midst of tens of thousands, he feels safer than before the large groups which regularly urge to see him. And these people now surrounding him do see him, more clearly than those crowds which clamour for his attention. His words are being heard with more intensity than any sound system can convey.
ST realizes his conversation with the burly man is being repeated from mouth to mouth. Relayed to those in the line behind, and the line behind that, and then the line beyond those voices. A hesitant, hushed, passage of news.
"I think I've said enough."
"Will you tell her something, Guv? Tomorrow - from me."
"I think ..." ST hesitates over his words. "I think she can hear you as well as she does me."
"You'll be in a pew - closer to her."
"What is it?"
"She was - "
The burly man bends closer, wanting to whisper. He turns, startled, as a low hiss comes from the people surrounding them. ST understands, and speaks in a louder voice.
"They're saying `no'. They want to hear all of this."
"But it's a - "
"You've become their spokesman."
"It's my private business." The man no longer whispers.
"I think ..." ST speaks carefully. "If they know how one person feels, they might understand why we're all here."
"I'm no talker." The man is truly troubled. "You speak all the time."
"Which is why they'll believe you." ST does not look away from the man.
"Tell her she frightened me, but she gave me hope."
"Frightened you?" ST has been prepared for many things, but not this.
"I know it's crazy, but you wanted me to tell." The burley man looks hastily around. "They wanted me to tell."
"You surprised me. I don't think you're crazy."
"She had looks, money, great kids, the fame - everything everyone dreams of. If you have it all, and can still be sad and miserable - that frightens me."
"I still don't - "
"If I get all I want, and feel bad when I get up in the morning - what's the point of trying?"
"You said she gave you hope."
"Yes - she kept trying."
ST lets the ripples of this conversation work their way through the people. And slowly, the hush and eerie quiet of the ragged queues again descends. He has become a centre of attention, but now it is time to move on. Still, there is one last thing to be done.
ST faces the burly man, moving so quickly as to startle him. And he startles the man even further, by putting his hands on his shoulders, and placing his lips beside his ear. This time it is ST who whispers.
"I'll tell her everything."
As ST takes his place in the Abbey, ushered by an Usher who actually does scrutinize his face, he finds a buffed and engraved envelope upon his seat. Sealed with a Royal seal. Lying upon, not beneath, the Order Of Service.
He glances around, and notices no other envelopes so displayed. The usher (who, ST will discover upon reading the Order Of Service, is referred to as a steward) remains by his side.
"You have received the envelope, Sir?"
ST holds it in front of him.
"You'll have no trouble opening it?"
"Might you perhaps need a penknife, Sir? "
"I can just rip - "
"That will make a touch of commotion." The steward removes a tiny knife from his pants pocket, and effortlessly flips open a blade. "May I, Sir?"
ST relinquishes the envelope, and the steward slits the flap with dexterity. As Albinoni's Adagio in G minor wafts through the Abbey, he hands it back to ST, and closes his knife with a decisive click.
"May I implore you to read the enclosure, Sir."
ST finally understands the other man's intent. He must make certain the contents of the envelope are read.
ST gives a slight nod, tucks his legs out of the way as someone squeezes past, and slides the paper from the envelope. `The presence of your company is requested at ...'
"Thank you ever so much, Sir."
"Pardon?" ST glances up.
"For your attention to this matter." The steward looks toward the Great West Door. "I must soon attend the Royals."
"Am I to understand ...?"
"Arrangements have been made, Sir. If you remain in your seat after the service, transportation will be provided."
"Just sit here?"
"I will come for you, personally."
The steward bestows the slightest of smiles - the only one during this encounter - and takes his leave. ST completely removes the stiff piece of paper from the envelope. There is a royal crest at the top, and an authentic royal signature at the bottom. A summons to Buckingham Palace, where he has more than once become lost among the corridors.
ST returns the card to the envelope, and slips the envelope into an inside jacket pocket. He hopes his slight-of-hand has been as successful as the steward, but a man so constantly on display can not avoid scrutiny. The eyes of the few instead of the many, but eyes honed to miss nothing. ST receives a shade more attention from those he himself recognizes. Faces which flit across screen and page, much as does his. But nowhere, among his newly-found comrades of death, have envelopes been lying in wait.
ST is mildly startled when the ceremonies begin.
Members of the Royal Family arrive. They are the minor, or lesser Royals, yet of enough stature to be noticed by those of greater fame. Such a display of blue blood is rare, and the removal of one of their own demands a unified appearance. Perhaps (as ST has reason to suspect), many in this royal clan are here just to make certain Diana is really dead.
The next-to-last arrivals are escorted from the Great West Door. Their Majesties The Queen and Queen Mother. What travels through their minds as they slowly proceed to the South Lantern? Mother and daughter of the family firm, neither one destined to be Queen until the abrupt intervention of Mrs. Simpson. A crisis brought them to the throne, and a crisis makes them focal points to defend the throne again. A price of fame.
So famous, other famous people stand for them.
The powerful organ pours out the strains of the national anthem. And now, the final arrival.
The great Abbey becomes silent as the Royal anthem ascends and disappears. If silence can become hushed, then the proverbial pin would drop with the clatter of a cymbal upon the stone floor. A stretching eon, from the chords of the anthem to the voices of the choir. No matter how short real time really is. Which is something ST is supposed to know.
The standard-draped coffin, born aloft by hefty and grim-visaged warriors, makes its measured way toward the altar. Four princes of the blood royal - grandfather, father, two sons - follow the torn and punctured corpse up the long aisle.
What are their thoughts?
What are the thoughts of the hundreds watching their every move, or the thoughts of millions watching through their electronic eyes with more detail than ST at his ringside seat? ST knows only the thoughts of one other man, burly and bedraggled and tear-stained. ST's lips actually move as he silently passes on the man's heart-felt message.
The casket reaches the Sacrarium. ST leaves his thoughts behind to follow the service, listen to the words, and sing along with the hymns.
Although he has no fondness for opera and operatic song, ST finds the soprano's voice pleasant, and drifts along with the Latin text: "Dies illa, dias irae ... Day of wrath, day of calamity and woe." He finds Elton John's presentation bizarre yet sincere.
The rest of the service proceeds around him, but he only stands and sits by following the motion and noise of those fore and aft. Perhaps it is his deficient attention span, perhaps it is jet lag (he did not get any rest yesterday), but, much as he did as a child on Sunday, ST slips into a revere.
He wonders where Diana is.
If the whole context of this service is correct, and her Spirit Everlasting is afloat in some other world, does she have the slightest interest in these proceedings? Do you care what is on the plate after you have eaten the meal?
Is it - as he hopes - an all new wonderful adventure?
ST is returned to the present by the familiar words of The Lord's Prayer. He is actually reciting "Give us this day our daily bread" before he realizes what he is doing.
Stopped in place and time.
He could be a child again (perhaps he is) wondering what `trespasses' are. He could be the aware young man, wondering why God would have a penchant to lead us into temptation. And he could be as he now is, wondering if this was the only way for a troubled young woman to be delivered from evil.
ST is fully attentive to the final hymn, and The Commendation of the Dead to the Lord.
He suspects it is an all-or-nothing package: that Diana and Jesus and God are present and appreciative to what is happening around him; or that he and everyone else are just singing and praying to the empty rafters. He fears his faith has skidded to the unstable foundation of hope.
The cortege prepares to leave the Abbey. Although the choir sings as the procession slowly moves to the west end of the church, it is really silence which hangs over this vast array of people. Again the casket with its ruptured body wend their way down the aisle, the flower arrangement an almost dull glow in this final, sombre setting.
"Weeping at the grave creates the song."
Or so the song goes.
Then there is the final minute.
The minute of silence.
Observed by the Nation.
Observed by ST.
Observed -perhaps- as a minute's pause in the enormous expanse of Eternity by a dead princess.