This letter is for Mr. Mandela. He is very sick right now and I am thinking of his family, his nation and the generations for which he has helped to change the landscape of humanity for. He is a good man.
Dear Mr. Mandela,
I know you will never read this, but I wanted to write it anyways. I know you have lived a long, painful, sacrificial and fruitful life for the cause of justice and mercy. You deserve peace and tranquility after all that you have served in your 94 years on earth.
I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. I only heard of apartheid through the news and the only South Africans I knew were the doctors that did 2 year stints in the walk-in clinics I had to use from time to time. It was a world away, a generation away, and as a white, middle class girl in a country that celebrates diversity I had no context to understand your fight. Nevertheless, I admired you anyways.
I admired your grace and humility, your endless kindness, and your wide smile that I would watch on the television. I watched from the middle of Saskatchewan as you got released from prison, as you rose to lead your country, and as you continued to live on in your legacy of justice and equality. I have loved you for it.
My life has looked very different from yours, but I have taken as much as I can from leaders such as yourself that have walked before me.
Along the way in my journey thus far I have known loss, both physical and emotional. I have also tasted victory. I have helped to create a movement – one that is filled with incredible people, stories and hope. While it has not been marked by as much sacrifice as yours, I have known the double edged sword of sacrificing for the greater good – for living a dream that is bigger than you and bigger than what you may ever see fulfilled in your lifetime. All the while, you are one of the characters that have played in the background of my life and my quest to reach my world with the call to justice and mercy. You might have thought you were doing it for South Africa, but you did it for all of us.
Mr. Mandela, my daughter is Haitian. She was born into poverty. Grinding poverty. The kind that my world has only ever seen through the eyes of media and commercials. Hers was a life that could have turned out very differently, and then by the miracle of grace, we found each other. Love found us both.
As I think about the world my daughter will grow up in, I sometimes get scared of some of the things she may encounter. It has happened already and I am doing my best to support her and help her stay connected to her culture – to find pride in where she has come from and the legacy she is a part of.
I hope that her world will largely be one of acceptance because of people like you and those who inspired you to rise to where you were by being willing to go through the depths that you were forced into.
Thank you hardly seems sufficient, but I truly mean it.
Over the years, you and many like you, spoke often of the concept of Ubuntu. I am trying to understand it more so that I can teach my daughter about it some day. I am doing my best to help her understand that as she grows up, she needs to be the best version of herself so that the people in her life can benefit from it and they can grow together.
“In Ubuntu, we recognize that we are intertwined in a world of ethical relations and obligations of well being – with all people from the time they are born.” Ultimately, the more human I see you, the more human I become.
Thank you for living out ubuntu every day of your life. Your example has made us realize it and I am forever grateful for it. It has helped me to see others not as competitors, but co-runners in the race. It has helped me learn to be compassionate first – no matter what. It has made me realize that to judge others is to judge myself, because judgment leaves no room for grace. And in the end, grace may be all we have to help us understand each other and make sense of our world.
I wish you well, Nelson Mandela. You are more than an icon of our times. You are a light that shines very brightly, giving other lights all over the world the courage to do the same.
God bless you.