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Maggi Van DornMarch 09, 2021
Australian newspapers report in Sydney, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, on an interview of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex by Oprah Winfrey. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

When The New York Times tweeted about “one of the most anticipated interviews in recent history,” my friend texted, “This is like a political or sporting event!” Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was, indeed, our Super Bowl. We meant this not in the gladiatorial sense—although we did hope Meghan would name names as she gave her side to the media narratives that had been spun around her—but because we considered ourselves Meghan Markle supporters (so much so that I produced a podcast in anticipation of the royal wedding, “Spilling Royal Tea”). And perhaps we saw something of ourselves in her.

I had followed Meghan and Harry’s love story since Meghan gushed about it in Vanity Fair and stood in awe of Meghan. She was effortlessly stylish, sincerely committed to her roles as a United Nations women’s advocate for women’s political participation and leadership and a global ambassador for World Vision, an unabashed foodie, a thriving creative. Most important, she struck me as an independent woman, who at 36, was finally marrying the love of her life. And this love also happened to be Prince Harry, the bad boy of Buckingham Palace.

Though her initial coverage was favorable, Meghan soon was scrutinized by the press and the drama did not abate after the wedding. In the year and half following their televised nuptials at Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel, Meghan endured a battery of assaults from the British tabloids, attacking her for cradling her baby bump, being a smug, American do-gooder, eating avocados linked to “human rights abuses, drought and murder” and, as Meghan told Oprah, “I realize that it was all happening because I was breathing.”

Then in January 2020, Meghan and Harry shocked the world when they stepped back from their roles as senior royals and declared they would work toward financial independence. For an entire year, Meghan and Harry have been tight-lipped about that decision. But so many questions remained unanswered.

Was there a falling out between Harry and his brother William? Did Meghan and Kate Middleton have a spat before the wedding? Was the queen blindsided by the couple’s decision to step back from royal duties and titles? What role did gender and race play in the damning media headlines written about Meghan?

On Sunday night, the couple provided their answers. The interview was met with immediate and intense responses from both sides of the pond. Some have dismissed Harry and Meghan’s claims, chalking up the tensions to the couple’s inability to handle the job—that is to ignore the press, to keep a stiff upper lip and to keep calm and carry on. Or the couple has been blamed for seeking fame on their own terms (see deals with Spotify, Netflix and even this interview with Oprah), while simultaneously waging war with the press. But others, including Chrissy Teigan, Elton John, George Clooney, Kate Beckinsale, Amy Schumer, Serena Williams (and the list goes on), have ardently risen to their defense.

Amid all the rumors they sought to dispel (no, Meghan did not make Kate cry), the announcements they shared (their second child is a girl!) and the troubling allegations made (that a senior member of the royal family expressed concern about the potential skin color of their then-unborn child, Archie), nothing was more profound than Meghan’s admission that for a stretch of time she “did not want to be alive anymore” and would be up late at night, haunted by suicidal ideations. When she sought help, Meghan said she was told it would not be good for the institution for her to be seen receiving psychiatric treatment.

Meghan said she was told it would not be good for the institution for her to be seen receiving psychiatric treatment.

This is the exact point in the interview where you should have suspended whatever opinion you had about Meghan and Harry and their choices. Because when someone is courageous enough to share with the world that she seriously considered taking her own life because she didn’t see a way out, you honor that honesty and vulnerability. And if you can’t honor that for Meghan, you honor that for your friend who, perhaps without you even knowing, has been silently struggling with her own mental health crisis. Meghan won’t hear your reaction to her interview, but those in your social circles will. And so in this way, Meghan and Harry’s story is a Rorschach test for compassion. How you treat their pain tells everyone you know what you think about their pain, too.

When Meghan was engaged to Harry and not yet a duchess, she said, “Women don't need to find a voice, they have a voice, and they need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.” She was speaking then about women’s empowerment, a global cause she had spent years championing.

But ever since she took on the mantle of Duchess of Sussex, Meghan’s voice has been gradually and systematically muted. She has been unable to defend herself while the press tore her apart with racist and sexist stories and while the very institution that claimed to protect her aided in the perpetuation of these lies. Oprah said that Meghan told her that Meghan was advised “that it would be best if she could be 50 percent less than she was.”

Meghan, the adult woman whom I admire for so many of her qualities, was asked to be half of her whole self in service of the crown? But God asks for our whole selves. St. Irenaeus is believed to have written in the second century that “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” In the non-canonical gospel of Thomas we read: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

When someone is courageous enough to share with the world that she seriously considered taking her own life, you honor that honesty and vulnerability.

To rob a person of their voice, to silence their cry for help, can be a form of murder. Constant institutional surveillance of a person raises important questions about systemic facilitation of self-harm. And when Meghan’s mental health reached a breaking point, and she remained solely at the mercy of the family she married into (she told Oprah that she had handed over her U.S. passport, drivers license and keys when she joined the royal family), she said she was told to remain silent. Meghan said of her suicidal thoughts, “I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he has suffered, but I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it.”

No matter who we are or what we face, we need to be able to name that which ails us. It is the first step toward breaking the spell darkness holds over us. And Meghan was not only denied help, she was denied the power of her own voice. Regardless of what you think of the British monarchy and its place in the world, and regardless of what you think about duty or what she naïvely signed up for, we must all take a moment to listen. Because while Meghan’s life circumstances may have been exceptional, her suffering is not. After over a year in quarantine, living and working and breathing in isolation from one another, we have got to give voice to all that is inside us. And we need to show reverence when someone is brave enough to do the same.

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