Terry Moran described the celebration and this good man with those words. It was a cold, pouring rain in and around the packed stadium this day. Rain is a sign of blessing and joy during a memorial in Africa.
There is nothing I can say about the man that hasn’t been said by those galactically more eloquent that I. This simply offers my penned tribute and gratitude.
My library contains three books by and/or about the great Nelson Mandella. My favorite, In His Own Words, offers personal reflections of a life of oppression and freedom; of courage and vulnerability.
On the night of his passing I walked down and pulled the works from their place on the shelf–or from their place in a stack on the floor. My hand shook a little as I pulled Long Walk to Freedom from my autobiography section. I realized the subject of these thousands of pages had now left us. I paused and offered a wish for peace and said “thank you” as I stood in the small room filled with books and bottles of wine and music of all kinds. I realized I was surrounded by the things that feed my soul, and how such a soulful man, chief among them, was now gone. This book sat next to Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy. An ironic and sweet proximity.
I experienced racial prejudice for the first time after moving to Panama City, Florida at the end of my 7th grade year. I was motioned to a seat in class next to Angela Woods, a beautiful, kind, and edgy girl. She smiled and offered a muted, “Hi, new kid.” Oh, by the way, she was–and remains–black. Later that same day, I found her in the cafeteria during lunch. Not knowing any better (or worse, in this case), I sat down next to her and enjoyed chicken chunks of some variety and peanut butter balls lightly covered with powdered sugar. After lunch I went to my new locker and was immediately surrounded by four or five guys, all wearing baseball caps (what is it about race hate and baseball caps with select logos?) who wanted to let me know, through a series of pushes and shoves, that we didn’t need any more “nigger lovers” at Rosenwald. That was the beginning of an orientation to a disgusting and continuing chapter in this “Land of the free.”
Things eased a little over the years. People found their uncomfortable “place” in this still-struggling society. Some of us use the discomfort for advocacy. Others rely on the discomfort to remain hunkered down in their ignorance. Keep the fight.
Mr. Mandella fought…in the best way. Through his words and actions. He moved millions from a cell in a horrible prison while serving a life sentence for his struggle against the abomination of apartheid. As history has proven, truth and justice have their way over evil, ultimately. As providence would have it, the planet was exposed for a time to a man, like others in history, who was willing to pay with his life for a cause of freedom.
My friend, Basil, once said to me, “The only time in my life I have felt pride in being a South African was in February of 1990, when this good fighter was released from the hell of injustice.” My friend was a 25 year-old at the time. A student and a protester against apartheid. I’m sure he is sad this week, but also smiling on a life devoted to defeating ignorance. Smiling on a life dedicated to speaking for and standing for what is right, regardless of our fucking’ placement on the color wheel. I’m sure Basil raises his face to the cold rain and smiles.
It is raining in my Carolina this morning. I will walk outside to do just the same.
Peace, Madiba. Thank you.