Where were you when Mandela passed away? I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Global Peace Convention 2013.
The trending hashtag #RIPNelsonMandela was the first thing that greeted me. I don’t think I could have been at a better place to commemorate his life at a peace conference with leaders from all over the world.
At the opening plenary session, Dr. Chandaria called Mandela the “heart of Africa”. Dr. Moon describe Mandela as “a figure who carried on the message of true love, even loving thy enemy, to build bridges of peace to heal the wounds of segregation that had separated two races in South Africa.”
I read A Long Walk to Freedom in my twenties. I remember wondering what plantain loaves tasted like when he talked about surviving on one a day in his early years as a lawyer. I held my breath as he walked deeper into the fight for racial equality. I cried when he was sentenced and cried harder when he was released. I remember walking on air when he recounted the victory of the first interracial election and his presidency.
I think for many of us who have lived through the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s, he was a looming presence in our personal history. One of those people that you never thought would pass away. An indomitable spirit, a man willing to die for a worthy cause.
What made him so large in our consciousness?
I think every child looks for heroes, people who manifest the noblest characters that we aspire for. I think Mandela is one of those people who walked a path of unbelievable trials, but was victorious. Not just because he was the first African president of South Africa, or that he endured 27 years of imprisonment, or is the icon of non-violent social action, those are all amazing feats. But I think what makes him so enduring are the battles he won first inside himself.
- He walked with conviction, willing to even die for the ideals he was fighting for.
- He forgave those who hate and even sought to kill him.
- He worked with people beyond ideological, racial, religious differences for a universal ideal of peace and prosperity.
He was a hero not because his life was always rosy and he basked in the accolades of the public, but because even in his darkest struggles he chose to embody qualities like humility, resolution, righteousness, courage and love.
There is a poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, that Mandela recited during his 27 years at Robben Island. I can see what gave him strength. It reads like an affirmation of the principles he stood up for.
The world celebrates his life for the first time after his passing on July 18. People are encouraged to invest 67 minutes in service to honor his legacy and life.
As we commemorate individuals such as Mandela, we can also commit to our own personal hero’s quest. The quest, as illustrated in Invictus and his life, is victorious when we choose, as the “captain of my soul”, to uphold moral principles and values in our thoughts and behaviors despite all odds.
Happy Mandela Day.
By: HIT, a blogger for Global Peace Foundation