Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't know much about . . .

       "What man is a man who does not make the world better?"  So, with that quote from the film "Kingdom of Heaven", I began my meditation a couple of weeks ago.  But, as I was starting to write today, I couldn't think of a better lead in (although I had tried!) for reflecting on Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at age 95.
         I freely admit that I don't know a lot about Nelson Mandela, although, over the last eighteen hours, I've learned a lot more!  But I have "been around the block" a number of times and I do remember some things.  For example, I remember a newspaper interview I gave MANY years ago with a high-school classmate.  I had spent the previous year as a foreign-exchange student in Australia; he had spent the same year in South Africa.  I remember the photo from that paper; I was wearing an Aussie "digger"-style hat (with one side clipped up -- yes my hats go back a LONG ways!), and he was holding an ostrich egg.  And I remember him answering a question about apartheid, saying something like, "Oh, it's not as bad as it's made out to be."  Mr. Mandela hadn't become quite a global celebrity at that time, but he had already been in prison for a third of his twenty-seven years as an opponent of apartheid.  So, yes, maybe it WAS that bad.
         I remember being on college campuses during the "divestment from South Africa" protests, and the ultimate difference that movement made.  I remember Mandela's refusal of a presidential pardon unless it was linked to the dismantling of apartheid.  I remember his release from prison in 1990.  I remember him and South African president P.W. de Klerk sharing the Nobel Peace Prize.  And I remember him becoming a one-term president--by choice--of South Africa; he chose not to hold on to power.  I remember many of the things he said and stood for, chief among them, not responding to hate with hate.
        Of course, Nelson Mandela, like ALL of us, was not one-dimensional; he wasn't a perfect human being.  He made mistakes.  Not everything he did benefited every single person in South Africa.  And some commentators now are more focused on those errors, or slip-ups, than they are on the great achievements that are Mandela's legacy.  I'm sure those commentators are reflecting more of THEIR "issues" than Mandela's.  So, despite those nay-sayers' beliefs, we have seen the passing of a man who did seek to make the world better and who, for many, succeeded.
        Now we look to the future, to that dreamed-of better world. And, next week, the current world's leaders will gather to pay homage to a man who sought to leave hate behind in his prison cell, rather than to be imprisoned forever by that hate.  I would pray that those leaders who travel to South Africa might, in the words of a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" all of Nelson Mandela's life story and teachings, that they would put aside their hate, their mistrust, their anger, their own failings and commit, with one another--in Mandela's honor, if nothing else--to make the world better.
        Honor his legacy, please!
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, thank you, and requiescat in pace.

Chaplain Gary

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