A Legacy of Two Women

A Legacy of Two Women: A Challenge to the World

by Von Rowan

(Author’s Note: A version of this essay was also published on one of my websites Color Us Empowered. Although I wrote this many years ago, it seems to still apply today—perhaps even more than it did then.)


I watched Princess Diana’s funeral, and a week later, Mother Teresa’s. Many things have struck me as a result. I hardly know where to begin. The contrasts and similarities of the lives and deaths of these two women is quite intriguing to me. The deaths of these two women—the two most famous women in the world—both of them most famous for their humanitarianism, their love and compassion of the least fortunate among us—the deaths of these two women within one week of one another has truly left the world in shock.

The funerals of these two women are probably the most unique in history. Certainly they must have been the largest in history. But their uniqueness goes much deeper than that. Have we ever before in one week seen two funerals in which lepers, the crippled and maimed, the homeless, the orphans, the poverty-stricken, victims of disease, the poorest of the poor participated along with royalty and dignitaries from the world over—all with the deepest respect and love for the one who has passed?

In spite of their similarities, these women were as different as cheese-cake and beef jerky. One was a princess—a real princess—accustomed to beautiful gowns, jewels, riding in limousines, vacations on yachts in the South of France. The other was a nun who chose to live her life in the poorest slums of Calcutta and whose material assets totaled three saris, two pairs of sandals, and three rosaries. One was both wife and mother to future kings. The other was also “married” to a king—Christ—but was only called “mother.” One was killed in the prime of life at the age of thirty-six in a most violent car accident in a limo navigated by a drunk driver chased by a herd of hungry paparazzi with cameras flashing around her. The other died quietly in her bed of a heart attack at the ripe age of eighty-seven with nary a camera in sight.

But I don’t think that the lives and deaths of these two women were mere coincidences. Something in me suspects that the Powers that Be ordained these events to happen just exactly as they did with a sacred purpose more awesome than most of us understand—a lesson and an awakening, a call to the people of the world. Can we not hear the trumpet call resounding in these events? “Wake up! Wake up and hear the message! Transcend the barriers of class and nationalism with love and compassion! Transcend the barriers of religion and language and race with love and compassion! Transcend and you will find peace and you will change the world!” Was this not the message of Christ? Of Buddha? Of all the great masters and religious leaders? It does not matter what your religion, your race, your nationality, your class! All that matters is love, compassion, peace.

In the midst of our mourning, we lament “Woe are we! Who will carry on for these two women?” Have we learned nothing from them? Who will carry on indeed! To whom have they passed the torch? Why not to us? To each and every one of us.

“But what can I do?” we wail. Did we ask that in the 60s when by our numbers we brought a senseless war to an end; we made massive strides in civil rights and women’s rights; we made the world wake up to a responsibility for the environment? No, those causes are not finished. There remains much to be done, yet we made tremendous progress. More progress than would ever have been made by hand-wringing and wailing. We made great strides by getting involved, by speaking out, by doing. Have we forgotten the power in numbers? Have we withered before the mountains that can be moved with people power?

“What can I do?” “I” can move mountains because “I” am not one—“I” am millions! There are over 250 million people in America alone. If only half of us use one hour a week—just one hour—to carry on the torch Princess Diana and Mother Theresa  lit for us, that’s 125 million hours a week, every week devoted to carrying on their work! If the other half donates just one dollar a week, that’s $125 million dollars a week, every week! What can “I” do? “I” can make the dreams of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa a reality. “I” can change the world!

I think the legacy of these two women is a challenge to the people of the world. It is a challenge to dissolve the barriers which divide us. A challenge to let the love and compassion in our hearts unite us. A challenge to dare to understand that national, religious and class boundaries are only man-made illusions. That in reality we—all of us are simply people.  We could light up the world with their torch. Shall we accept their challenge? Or shall we let their lives—and deaths—have been in vain?

How will you answer the question, “What can I do?”


52 Little Ways You Can Make a Big Difference

  1. Smile at someone—it will brighten their day as well as your own.
  2. Hold a door for someone who has their hands full. (Better yet, go the extra mile and offer to help him/her to the car with their packages.)
  3. When you buy a sandwich for your lunch, buy an extra one and, with only a smile, give it to a homeless person.
  4. Volunteer to babysit for a single mother for a few hours a week to give her some time out.
  5. Help the kids in your community organize a recycling program.
  6. Take that dress or suit you haven’t worn in a year out of the closet and give it to a welfare recipient or woman at a shelter or someone who is looking for a job but can’t afford clothing appropriate for a job interview.
  7. Get some bumper stickers printed that say, “Change the world:  Let your kindness show.” Then give one to everyone you know who owns a vehicle..
  8. Teach an illiterate adult to read and write.
  9. Have your children donate 50 cents or $1.00 of their weekly allowance to their favorite charity and you match their donation.
  10. If you have a spare room or bed, put a foster child in it.
  11. Tutor or mentor a child.
  12. Help your child sort through his/her toys and books and donate all those he/she has outgrown to a woman’s shelter or children’ hospital.
  13. Women’s shelters can also make good use of women’s and children’s clothing.  Many of these women have been forced to flee with only the clothes on their and their children’s backs.
  14. Take your children out and let them sow wild flower seeds along a roadside.
  15. Volunteer a couple of hours to help serve food at a homeless shelter.
  16. Go to your nearest nursing home and “adopt” a resident who has no family or whose family has abandoned him/her. Donate a few hours a week to taking this person to the park, for a ride in the country, home for diner, or include him/her in a family outing.
  17. Get a few of your friends or choir members together and spend an hour or two each week singing at a nursing home.  You won’t have to be singing stars for the residents to appreciate and enjoy your efforts.
  18. Help your child start a campaign to convince your local schools to donate the food left over from school lunches to local homeless and/or women’s shelters.
  19. Each spring, buy a window air conditioner for an elderly person who doesn’t have air conditioning; during the winter, pay their heating bills for them.
  20. Every day hug your child and say, “I love you.”
  21. Teach a skill you have or share your knowledge of a subject with an interested child.
  22. Volunteer your services for children’s Reading Hour at your local library.
  23. Whenever you replace any of your furniture, donate your used stuff to a local homeless or women’s shelter or Help-In-Crisis.
  24. Start a program through your local SPCA to spend an afternoon a week transporting a few loving cats and dogs to a local nursing home or children’s hospital (be sure you go through the appropriate channels for permission) for an hour or two of mutual love and affection.  Everyone involved will benefit.
  25. During the summer, volunteer to keep an elderly neighbor’s yard mowed; during the winter, keep their sidewalks shoveled clear of snow.  Don’t forget to salt or sand for ice to prevent their slipping and breaking brittle bones.
  26. Offer to do the marketing for an elderly person who can’t get around very well.  Doing theirs and yours at the same time will allow you to do this favor with little extra demand on your time and energy.  If they prefer to do their own shopping, but lack transportation, let them know when you’re going to do yours and invite them to come with you.
  27. If you’re a single mother, organize a babysitting co-op with other single mothers in your area and take turns giving one another a day off from the kids.
  28. If you’re a reasonably good seamstress, make a special occasion dress (prom, graduation, Easter, Christmas) for a young lady who cannot afford to buy one.
  29. Help the kids in your community set up lemon-ade stands in the summer (even for just one weekend each summer) to raise money for a worthy cause.
  30. Volunteer as a teacher’s aid at your local school.
  31. Donate a bag of cat or dog food weekly to your local SPCA.
  32. Volunteer to help feed and care for the animals at your local SPCA.
  33. Pay to have a cat or dog at your local SPCA spayed or neutered.
  34. Volunteer to drive an elderly neighbor to his/her doctor’s appointments.
  35. Practice patience and tolerance. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive.
  36. Play Santa Claus and deliver Christmas presents to some financially deprived children in your area/
  37. Organize a program to provide after-school activities for kids until their parents get home from work.  (A good idea to include a tutoring program during this time.)
  38. Listen to a child. Children have a lot to say; they need someone who will listen.
  39. Buy a bag of groceries (don’t forget things like soap and TP) for someone who has lost his/her job or has been sick or injured and unable to work. Or offer to pay a utility bill or help with the rent. Best to ask the family what they need most and let them know how much you can or are willing to do.
  40. Buy school supplies and /or a new outfit of clothes for a financially deprived child to start the school year.
  41. Organize a neighborhood block party and got to know and make friends with your neighbors.
  42. In everything you do, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  43. Be generous with encouragement whenever the cause or goal is worthy and realistic.
  44. Volunteer to help out at your local Help-In-Crisis.
  45. Help your child with his/her homework. Be involved and interested in his/her school activities.
  46. Get involved in your favorite cause, even if you can spend only one hour a week working on it.
  47. Learn CPR and other emergency first aid. You never know whose life you might save.
  48. Extend a hand of friendship to someone of a different race, religion or nationality than your own.
  49. Volunteer to comfort, cheer up patients at your local hospital. Offer them your companionship. Take them magazines, books, anything which will help them pass the time.
  50. Make copies of this list and pass them out to everyone you know. Add to this list your own ideas of how to let your kindness show.
  51. Call your local Salvation Army, Help-In-Crisis and other help groups in your area and ask, “What do people need? How can I help?”