Recently, there was a funeral for a man, but to call him “just” a man is insufficient. He was quite a man. I first heard of him when I was in high school. He was in prison and not a few people said that’s where he belonged. He was a terrorist. He was a communist and he wanted to overthrow the right and proper government of his country.
I asked my dad what he thought. His opinion: “Don’t listen to a bunch of naysayers who don’t really know the man. Do your own research and come to your own conclusion.”
I started to read about him. Now, keep in mind, this was during the pre-Internet days, so I had to go to the library and read actually books. I learned a lot about him. It seemed he was in fact fighting against the government of his country, but his cause was just. His country had even more racism than we did. In his country, racism was government policy. Blacks were truly second-class citizens, denied the most basic of human rights. I was shocked. I didn’t think it was possible for a country to be that way!
It also turned out that part of the report about communism was true. The man was a member of the African National Congress, and there were communists in that group. When I talked to my dad about it, he said that was the old “guilt by association” issue. I didn’t understand at first, but he had lived through the Red Scare, and he’d seen that happen to other people. He told me, “Just because there are communists in the ANC doesn’t mean that all ANC members are communists. Remember, all dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs.”
His words made sense, and I decided to wait and see what the man would do. That was another of my dad’s lessons: Deeds not words are what define a man. So, what acts would define this man? For a long time, he stayed in prison, and thus his actions were limited. Then his release from prison came. The world waited to see how he would act. Would he call on his people to rise in revolt and slaughter the whites? Many people said he would be completely justified, if he did. After all, twenty-seven years in prison can make a man hard.
Yet, he didn’t, he rose about the pain of his life and used it to become a better man. Another of my dad’s old sayings rang in my head: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. The man was truly-truly strong. He went on to lead his nation as president. There were still people, some quite powerful and well regarded, who called the man a radical and a communist.
Then he did something quite radical: he voluntarily left office after his term as president! He went into retirement, and yet he did not slow down. He continued his efforts to help people, and I learned just what a great man he could be. Yeah, Nelson Mandela defined his life by his actions and what actions they were!
When I hear politicians, in America, whine and complain or outright lie, I shake my head in disgust. Not one of them is a tenth the man Mandela was, and we will not see his like again for a long time. Such men and woman come along about once a century.
What a pity. Our world could use more such people. May you rest in peace, Madiba.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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