Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Greatest Human So Far?

I've been mentally preparing for this for a while now.  Nevermind.  The day is here and I am completely without breath.  Kicked in the gut, winded, tear-streaked and awe-inspired.

The thought began formulating itself and has been unraveling slowly over the last year or so as reports of illness spread: there has never been anyone on earth with the insight, force, skill, power and love of this man.  We are blessed to witness his life in real time.  We will not witness another such life in ours. I kept wondering if he could live forever.

This is why I prepared myself - or thought I did, for his death. Turns out, there was no preparing.

If I am activist, it is completely because of Mandela and apartheid.  I think I was 11 when I first learned about the segregated state of South Africa.  It was beyond absurd to me, but if it was real, and it appeared it was, I knew it was injustice on the grandest scale. It represented something I had thought of as belonging to other humans, those in the past, like the holocaust or civil rights marches.  That this could be happening while I was on the planet was unfathomable to me.  It had to be stopped.

My first protests were for divestment from South Africa.  Let me tell you - we didn't have a prayer.  We didn't think anyone would divest, and if they did, we didn't think it would have an impact, and we all believed Mandela would die in prison - probably very soon, in fact, given the conditions.  Still we sat, we marched, we spoke, we organized (well, I followed), we obstructed normalcy, we got rained on and got handed cups of soup, and every few hours, someone put on Free Nelson Mandela and we danced.

On the radio, some months later, I heard we'd achieved divestment.  I was driving, and I pulled over, turned up the radio and I cried.  It was a small victory, but now I can see it was a tide turning.  It was a quiet victory, but I learned early to celebrate all the victories, because the defeats will come fast and furious.

When Mandela stepped out of prison, my world changed.  I was now living in a world where Nelson Mandela would not die on a cold cement floor in a prison on a bleak island.  I was living in a world with hope for humanity.  I never thought I would be; it made me change.

Then he became president.

Then he did what no one in our world had ever done - he created forgiveness.  He created vast oceans of forgiveness so that his people, and his country, could move on in positivity, without cultivating bitterness.

Then he steered his country into a new world.

He showed the world what change looked like, what integrity looked like, what justice could look like if we didn't so confuse it with vengeance. He stayed true to his principles and ideals, while always evolving in thought, policy, and implementation.  He led with heart, humor and intellect.  He possessed a warmth and humility I had never seen in other world leaders.

He didn't die.  Not when he should have, not when he was supposed to, and thankfully not until he had given the world almost a century of his grace.  He didn't fight his fate - he lived the life he was given, true in each moment.  He moved forward even when that meant standing still.  He did not give in to any of the temptations we succumb to so easily every day - self doubt, fear, loathing, depression - not even when his spirit and body were sorely tested.

He was a hero.  Not the Homeric kind.  He wasn't going to be waylaid by glamour or take his vanity into battle with him.  A new kind of hero.

I am so grateful for his life and his example.  There really are no excuses, are there?


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