Mandela's effect on the world has made me think of courage. I collect courage. Sounds unlikely, but every time I come across someone brave, I save their story on my mental memory stick. If they can do it, I can at least try. And if they can do it, it means courage is within our human grasp.
Rather like Roger Banister running the four minute mile. Originally thought to be physically impossible, once he did it, it became commonplace. Have you seen the shuffling queues on Everest?
But courage of the soul like Mandela's is different from pitting oneself against arctic nature. It is lonely. Probably the most lonely thing we ever do. Soul courage is demanded, not voluntary. We aren't consulted, or interviewed to see if it suits us. Or whether it is convenient. There is never an ideal time to be brave.
It happens: a burning house, a spouse with dementia, cancer. We have our backs to the wall, call into our depths, somehow find the will to do what a week ago would have been impossible. When the call comes, we answer, weeping, fighting, angry, because we know at some fundamental, lonely level it is the only action if we are to call ourselves human. If we are going to LIVE life rather than be dragged unwillingly down to a dumb, enduring animal level.
So when we face the odds and choose to respond with courage, it means we remain in the human dimension. We are kneaded like bread, pounded, pummelled and if we somehow hold on, our spiritual yeast rises and we emerge forever changed.
This is written in honour of a friend who is caring for a husband with dementia; a friend with MS who has just had a stroke, but kept her sense of humour; my grandmother who for fifteen years, post stroke, sat speechless in a chair and still managed to struggle to her feet for “God Save the Queen” each Christmas Day; a pretty young Asian girl who had both hands amputated by militants and then without bitterness continued volunteering where she could. For them and all the many who have quietly carried on.