Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Heartbeat for the World

Nelson Mandela has left us. The television and radio are full of reports of the world’s mourning. I have no doubt that many tears are being shed, but mourning is not a feeling I can easily associate with Mandela. The man exhibited such an enormous ability to rise about suffering that, even now, I can only experience a sense of joy and celebration in thinking of him.

I’m not much given to adulation, or hero worship. We are all human, with sprinklings of Godliness, I think. We have the possibility of taming our hungers and minimizing that which is small and greedy in ourselves, and we realize these possibilities to varying degrees. One of the things I so love, in experiencing my fellow humans, is witnessing the channeling, the releasing, the maximizing of this potential greatness, this Godliness, I referred to, usually in small flashes. In the case of Nelson Mandela, there’s a particular and profound emanation of this quality that continues to astonish and amaze me more than twenty years after I first witnessed it.

How could a man be so loving and forgiving? I can hardly get my head or heart around it. Mandela was imprisoned for his belief in fundamental human dignity, and for twenty-seven years. He was separated from wife and family and denied the opportunity to pass his days and nights as he would. He experienced the passing of decades while his adult vigor faded away. And when he emerged from prison, he did so smiling, and offering love, friendship and forgiveness to those who had stolen from him all those years of his life.

I listened to a bit from an interview this evening, in which, shortly after being released from Robben Island, Mandela was asked about this lack of bitterness. And he responded – and I paraphrase – that it is difficult, when one is occupied with purposeful and rewarding activity, to give much thought to bitterness and disappointment. And he said that it is idleness that leads us to focus on our hurt and loss. Powerful words; all the more powerful in that he was a living manifestation of their truth.

I was privileged to be in Mandela’s presence once. A public school in Regent Park, here in Toronto, where I was doing youth work, changed it’s name to the Nelson Mandela Park Public School in 2001. It was being said at the time that this was the first school outside of Africa to be named for him. Mandela attended the ceremony, and I was blessed with tickets for my wife and I. What I remember more than anything was how he danced his way into the school gym to the rhythm of drums, beaming all around, especially at all the children. I don’t remember the specifics of his message, except that it was all love.

How fortunate we are to have had such a one among us.

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