The Other I

September 14, 2010

Avoiding celebrity

Filed under: The English,Two Kuvasz Dogs: Suli and Dugo — theotheri @ 8:53 pm

The search for celebrity seems to have become a passion for a lot of people.  Somehow to have millions of people know about me and what I have done seems to be the ultimate fantasy.

It’s not particularly hard to see that celebrity almost always comes with a price.  It is not hard to find examples of the destruction celebrity has wrought on personal lives and relationships, especially when it is accompanied by money.

Today, though, I began to think about those who actively avoid public notice.  Two weeks ago, an 89-year-old woman living by herself in an apartment in Torquay, England died.   She did not seem to have any relatives, and the town council was planning on giving her a pauper’s funeral and burial in a local plot.

That was before they found the medals.  And the letters.  And the papers in her apartment.

During World War II, she’d been one of a small group of young women parachuted into France by Britain where they worked as spies.  She was fluent in French, having lived there with her parents for many years before the war and after being arrested by the Nazis twice convinced them she was an innocent French woman.  She was also sent to a concentration camp where she was tortured by something similar to water boarding, and from which she escaped.  She also escaped again from a forced labour camp,

But in Torquay she was simply known as an old lady whom people liked but didn’t know.  When mail arrived and someone noticed that it was addressed to her with the title MBE she laughed and said it was a mistake.  Ster Orde van het Britse Rijk.jpg

But it wasn’t.  She really was a member of the Order of the British Empire.  Donations are now coming from around the world for her funeral.  A military contingent will be present, and two different funeral directors in the town have offered their services free of charge.

Some cultures are more private than others (the English are more private than most Americans, for instance).  Some people avoid celebrity because it comes at a price they do not want to pay.  Some people simply find public attention acutely painful.     Some people have enough personal confidence not to want or need the distraction of public adulation.

And some people I think avoid the public spot light because of where they have been and what they have seen.


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