Thursday afternoon, while I was sitting in a coffee shop reading, for some reason Nelson Mandela crossed my mind. I wondered how he was doing after his hospitalization several months ago when it seemed he was on his deathbed. “Is he still alive?” I thought to myself, wondering if somehow I might have missed the news of his death.
An hour later I got in my car to head home and heard on the radio the breaking news that he had died.
On one level it’s surprising that I thought about him at that particular time even though I hadn’t heard the news yet, but on another level it isn’t surprising at all. When he crossed my mind, millions of people across the globe were finding out that one of our wisest leaders and greatest peacemakers had left us. Madiba was on a lot of people’s minds, and the information that was flooding the collective consciousness broke through into my thoughts as well.
And that in itself speaks to the wisdom that Nelson Mandela embodied: that humanity is one and that the artificial divisions we have erected between us must become a thing of the past.
Before his imprisonment Mandela was a leader in the armed rebellion against apartheid, but by the time he walked free from Robben Island, having endured 27 years of brutal imprisonment, he was unwaveringly committed to a vision of peace.
Peace for South Africa, as he shrewdly realized, necessitated forgiveness. Only through forgiveness could his nation be liberated from the cruelties of its past, and by his courageous example, reaching out to the very people who had wronged him, he not only set his people free from the brutal cycle of revenge, but he set all of our imaginations free. In his actions we, the people of the world, came to see a different way, a way of reconciliation that is there for us if we have the spiritual maturity and fortitude to claim it.
My prayer is, now that Madiba is no longer with us in the flesh, that the magnanimity of his spirit, that his commitment to the ways of peace, that his courage to transcend the boundaries of hatred, that his vision of what is possible will be set free fully in our collective imagination, inspiring each of us to embody forgiveness, and in doing so to help liberate the future from the prison of our past.