“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
The Passing of Nelson Mandela
Today South Africa has lost the first President of its modern era, a man who has come to be regarded as “father of the nation”.
Commentaries on political figures are not usually within the scope of this blog. But Mandela was extraordinary, and his legacy profoundly relevant to the principles of Eurythmia – which aims to give the inspiration and means to regain and retain balance and harmony in the face of all that life throws at you.
And the quote above surely represents a true modern concept of sainthood – an honest recognition that one is not perfect, in fact subject to all kinds of deficiencies. But also an almost superhuman aspiration and determination to overcome your faults and become the best person you can be. And to make a difference in your community!
The “Long Walk”¹ to Saint Madiba
At the same time that South Africa has lost its beloved Madiba, the world has lost one of the great historical and inspirational figures of the last century. If you could count five great people of the previous 100 years who have had profound positive influence over the course of human events, or whose lives and work have inspired people far beyond what could normally be expected – to almost ‘miraculous’ effect, then one of those five must be Nelson Mandela.
Such greatness was not something one might have expected of a person who spent 27 years of his life in prison during the repressive and racist apartheid regime ruling life in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.
During that time, Mandela evolved into an inspirational figure both within and beyond South Africa. But the process of quasi-beatification to living saint really began as he gradually came to epitomise the feelings of great hope for humanity precipitated by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. What followed were people-powered, mostly peaceful collapses of many repressive regimes around the world, especially in the old Soviet system.
Mandela became a symbol of this new 90s spirit of freedom and hope. Released by the de Klerk government in 1990, he began working together with his former enemies and de Klerk in particular to transition South Africa peacefully into a fully representative democracy. The efforts of Mandela and de Klerk were recognised by the world community in 1993 with their sharing of that year’s Nobel Prize for Peace. Since then, their real growing friendship and respect for each other has come to symbolise the ideal of the growing together of their respective communities.
And while real progress for many in South Africa under Mandela’s successors has been disappointing, his great gift to his nation and the world was to become the living embodiment of evolutionary unification and sincere reconciliation. Foremost in this has been his complete repudiation of any spirit of retribution that might well have been the result of his and his people’s mistreatment over so long.
Let his words speak for themselves
Finally, it is best to let Mandela’s own words carry his most profound messages. These will not generally be the quotes to be found in most of the political or historical obituaries you will read today. But they do represent the Mandela that Eurythmia so admires:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
“You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
“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… Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never explained.”
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
“Nothing is black or white.”
“When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”
Rest in Peace, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
¹Reference to one of Mandela’s autobiographical works:
Mandela, Nelson (1995). Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Back Bay Books