Saying Goodbye to Mandela

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“Hope is a powerful weapon, and no one power on earth can deprive you of.”- Nelson Mandela

Yesterday I walked into a McDonald’s to buy a mcflurry and while waiting with Skye and my host brother I saw a book off to the side. The sign above the book says to write a note to Nelson Mandela. The sign referred to him as Tata which means father in Xhosa. The book was close to full with beautiful words of love and admiration. The notes were in a wonderful collection of languages as the people of the rainbow nation said their goodbyes. I think the book sitting in the middle of this McDonald’s represented the grief of this country so well. It sat in an ordinary place so that ordinary people could say farewell to the man who changed their country and their lives.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”-Nelson Mandela

I have lived in freedom my whole life. I have never felt the bitter pain of oppression. Rights have never been taken away from me because of the color of my skin. I am white, I am privileged, and I have grown up in a free society. If Nelson Mandela had given up on his fight for human rights my life probably would have not been very different. But this is not the case for everyone I am surrounded by, these people who I now call my friends’ lives would be completely different. Without Mandela and people like him this country would still be suffering from the segregation and oppression that apartheid brought.  In South Africa the pain of segregation and oppression is fresher, it is not generations away. This has made it more real to me. I have so much more respect for people who have and continue to fight for freedom. I think that one thing I will take away from my stay in this country, will be a new perspective on freedom and how I should handle the freedom I am so blessed to have. I actually stumbled  across the quote above a few months before I left for South Africa and loved it, but I think I am just starting to grasp what respecting and enhancing the freedom of others really means. The more I have learned about Mandela as I have lived here, the more his life has challenged me on an extremely personal level in things like this.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. 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.”- Nelson Mandela

I have been in a unique situation these last few days. I am an outsider watching as a country grieves and celebrates the most  influential leader they have ever had. And though I celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life I have the feeling that I do not have the right to grieve. He did not belong to me, he was these people’s leader not mine. But I am thankful beyond words for Mandela’s life and work in this beautiful country that is becoming a home to me. The people of South Africa love Mandela, he is the father of their nation.He is apart of all of their stories. He showed people how to love, and he did it in an extraordinary way, and it is wonderful to see this love pour out as they remember his life. Leaders from around the world and the people of South Africa gathered to celebrate his life at the memorial service today in Johannesburg.  Eunice told me that it always rains when a king dies and today it did rain, here and in Johannesburg. My heart aches for these people as I feel their grief and I look at their broken past that still seems so fresh, but I look towards the future and pray for beautiful things for this country that I love. I hope that this country, and the rest of the world continues Mandela’s work now that he is gone.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”-Nelson Mandela

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