Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mandela's Death is All About Me. And You. And Him.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died last week Thursday, the fifth of December. Mr. Mandela was the main icon of the anti-apartheid revolution and one of the greatest fighters for freedom in modern times. Much has been written about his life and, upon his death, his legacy and impact and inspiration. It is a universally accepted truth that, indeed, the world has lost one of the greatest human beings ever.

It's All About Me
I held Mr. Mandela in high esteem. I recall the moment in Jamaica when friends and I heard he was released from prison in February, 1990. The clanging of pot covers, shouts of joy from hither and yon, and music filled the air - for a long time. At the time, I could not yet wrap my head around the enormity of the significance that his stand, his imprisonment and, then, his release, meant. After all, many of the historic moments were yet to follow. Still, I knew in my own heart I admired this man who stood for something, for so long, against so many strong and unrelenting odds. To overcome all of that, to the point of presidency of South Africa; to the point of continuing to work on behalf of others (even when he had done far more than enough by then), and to the point of inspiring countless lives, all that was a demonstration of an enviable measure of strength, resilience, persistence, humility, graciousness, forgiveness and kindness that few possess. And that is what moved me about his life: He was put through the furnace of affliction and he came out as pure gold.

I honestly don't wish to regurgitate everything we've seen in newspapers from around the globe and in books and so on. (The Toronto Star carried a timeline.) Information is now at our fingertips. What is not at our fingertips; what may not be touched on screen, is the impact and inspiration he was, just by doing what he did with his life. For me, he made the world a better place. He certainly left it better than the way he found it. And, I am so very thankful that our lifetimes intersected. True, I was saddened on hearing the news, but, after quick acceptance, gratitude took over.

It's All About You
There can be, and will ever be, only one Nelson Mandela. You are not him. I imagine that's the balancing act some people, now faced with the breadth and depth of the life of Mr. Mandela, have suddenly found themselves trying to manage. Of course, Mr. Mandela was around for a long time. For some people, the length of time he'd spent in prison was equal to or greater than how long they'd been alive. Since his passing, however, and the fact that news outlets everywhere have been at pains constantly to feed us with all things Mandela, it may be hard for some not to feel overwhelmed, under-valued and unfulfilled. All of a sudden, those folks are thinking that their not-perfect-but-ok life has taken a turn for the inadequate. I'd have one thing to say to them: Stop it. Ok, more than one thing. Remember that bit I'd written a few months ago, encouraging us to arise and shine? Funny, the excerpt by Marianne Williamson is usually attributed to, you guessed it, Nelson Mandela. I saw a tweet with the misappropriated attribution just yesterday. The truth of it still holds, however. And, how fitting that the same sentiment is used to reinforce the point I'm making:

From her book, A Return to Love, this is Marianne’s piece, the excerpt popularly known as: Our Deepest Fear.  (And, no, I don’t know her like that, but I don’t think she’d mind.)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Hey, you are who you are. And, you are neither called, nor expected, to be anyone else. Shall I start quoting Dr. Seuss up in here?

Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you. ~ Dr. Seuss

In the light of Mr. Mandela's life and death and legacy, it would be remiss of you to miss the point of his life. I'm positive that there are many lessons to learn from him. I found this AP report of athletes paying tribute to him particularly heartwarming. But, I believe the essence of his life was this: Do for others. That was it. Do for others. It may be looked at and dissected to reveal: Do something. Stand for something. Help others. Forgive. Be kind. And, so on and so forth. I believe that if we start feeling small in his light, we dishonour his memory and prove ourselves to be bad students. Let it not come true in our own lives - that we learn from history we do not learn from history. (So it has to repeat itself, is the idea.) Let's take the torch and continue the work. It will be alright, in the end. And, as that saying goes, since everything is not yet alright, I can assure you, it is not yet the end.

It's All About Mr. Mandela
After all - and we're not in any way deifying the man - he was one of the great ones. We cannot deny that there was something about him and in him; something that coursed through his veins and heart that made him continue the fight. He deserves the kudos and the accolades and the honours and the esteem and the pedestal and and and. Yes, he had support. But, he, himself, had to - and did - make the choice not to give up. And, after coming forth as pure gold, how magnanimous he was toward his former oppressors; how he lived the exemplary life of forgiveness and kindness. I like that quote from the AP article: "If I hate, I would not be a free man anymore." So thankful for his life and what he did with it.

Remember, remember, the fifth of December. What a life on which the sun set that day.

Walk good, Mr. Mandela.


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