I just hosted the screening of the movie “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” Wednesday evening.
And as I welcomed the crowd, I had a sudden urge to pray for Nelson Mandela. I resisted the whisper because I thought it might make some of the moviegoers uncomfortable.
I should have done it. He died less than 24 hours later.
For me, Nelson Mandela was the first real-life human being who’s sacrifice and world-changing political and humanistic views were playing out in my real life. In 1989, I stood near a rock in Piedmont Park that had an inscription that read “Free Nelson Mandela,” and I marched with other college students to have this political prisoner released.
Less than a year later, I stood at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and watched Nelson Mandela walk out of jail 27 years after he entered – all because of his deepest beliefs that all people should be free and that apartheid and the civil war in South Africa had to come to an end.
I cried and I cried, mostly because I couldn’t believe that someone could be in jail for 27 years because they believed in a cause so much that it was greater than the importance of their own life. I wondered if I could ever be in a position in my life to be so brave, so dignified, so self-sacrificing. All these years later, on the day of his death, I still don’t know.
Nelson Mandela was one of those special one-of-a-kind human beings. He was placed here to be an example for others. To help people reach a potential only God can dream for you. He taught me the truest definition of the word sacrifice, of the meaning of “things are bigger than your personal circumstance” and the example of true forgiveness.
When he declared that he forgave the very people who oppressed an entire nation and imprisoned him for a greater portion of his adult life, we all knew we were watching history being made month by month, year by year.
Later in my twenties after graduating from college, I watched Nelson Mandela cast a ballot in an election he had always spoke and dreamed of – one man, one vote. That vote along with the votes of South African citizens would lead to Nelson Mandela becoming the first black president of South Africa, long before we here in America would experience our first black president.
Nelson Mandela was never going to die, even as he approached his 9th decade of life, mostly because we wouldn’t be prepared to be without his example and his presence. But he did die, and tonight I will watch television all night long, pray for his family, be awed by his life and his legacy.
But tomorrow, I will talk about what Nelson Mandela taught me.
Love, Dedication, Strength, Will, Purpose, Meaning and Sacrifice. That is what he taught me.
I want to hold on to those descriptors of Mr. Mandela in my heart, in my mind, in my actions.
I want to incorporate them into my life in a more meaningful way.
That will be my tribute to his life.
Now, I want more than ever to go to South Africa, to Robben Island, to the hills of Nelson Mandela’s hometown and pay tribute to a man that was a real-time life hero for me.