Wise Among Men

42355_pro Tonight, I will go out and look at the stars and thank whatever forces for good there are that sometimes we get better than we deserve.

When Nelson Mandela left his jail cell in South Africa after twenty-seven years, his release was reason enough to celebrate. But we got more, so much more to celebrate in his life after that point. Through his example of self-control, grace, and dignity, he taught us how to let go of resentment and reach for the future. Through his words, we all have had multiples lessons in how to conduct ourselves in the world. Consider these quotes:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (His statement during his trial in 1964.)

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” —Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” —Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

“I am not the only one who did not want revenge. Almost all my colleagues in prison did not want revenge, because there is no time to do anything else except to try and save your people.” —Larry King Live, May 16, 2000

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” —Rivonia trial, 1964

Nelson Mandela

His example will live on long after him, but his inspiration is even now a palpable thing in the world.

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S STATEMENT ON MANDELA’S DEATH:

At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal and he made it real.

He achieved more than could be expected of any man.

Today he’s gone home and we’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.

His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or in our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I’m not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action — the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was a protest against apartheid. I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison it gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.

And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.

****************

When a great man (sic) dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men (sic).

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) U.S. poet.

I remember the long struggle against apartheid. I remember, when we thought the time had come to push for Mandela’s release from jail, how we lobbied, how we challenged and boycotted the oil companies and others so they would help us pressure the government to let him go. But none of us, not even the most ardent supporters of Mandela, had any reason to expect the grace with which he would fulfill his destiny.

Everything we did to bring about his release was nothing compared to what he did. After all, he sat in that cell day after day, enduring cold and poor food and lack of medical care, and refused to hate his captors. That is the hardest task I can imagine, one few of us can master.

A profoundly good human being he was, no more and no less.

When I step out tonight to thank out Universe for the gift of this good man, I will also say a prayer of thanks that I was privileged to be alive while he was with us. And also that his story will be told down through the ages to encourage those who must endure the seemingly unendurable.

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