Nelson Mandela – dead. It has to be the stark word, not softened by refinements like “passing”, because the news hit the gut. I felt the physicality, not mere sadness, but a blow, felt viscerally and not just by an individual, but by the world.
We know South Africa well, have eaten in the villages, danced at local parties, taught the children high fives and the chicken dance. We have been as close as grandparents to a young rural woman, Sibongile, from a skinny 9 year-old to a young mother in Johannesburg. So tonight our hearts are mourning with his people.
Watching clips of Madiba just out of prison, serene in the face of years of brutality, forgiving from a graceful heart in a savagely weakened body, I felt such shame at our school bullying, petty grudges and oppositional politics.
How can we mourn? All I can think to do is look at my life and try to bring his grace and forgiveness to any dark corners, to open my understanding to those who have hurt me and to try to walk in his steps – as best I can.
Appropriately and serendipitously, immediately after an hour long tribute to Madiba, we turned to a program on individuals who have started small and made big changes. The first cameo was Soul City in Johannesburg. My prayer is that we take from our grief the determination to try and make change, however small, like ripples on a pond.
Poem by William Ernest Henley that inspired Madiba during his imprisonment on Robben Island:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Please watch: the South African National Anthem – a powerful choral rendering. Link
Architects of Change – link. The episode we watched was The Right to be Healhy.