The usual morning chaos was interrupted today by the arrival of the daily paper. My husband brought it to the kitchen saying, “oh dear,” and, “what a shame.” I looked up to see a fully black front cover – a clear sign that we had lost someone special.
Nelson Mandela (beloved Madiba) has passed away. My heart sank to see his face on that cover. I was surprised by my own tears and the world slowed. My children asked who he was, “a very important man,” is all I managed before more tears came and my throat closed.
I knew this man but never met him and yet I feel his loss so deeply. I have lost a close member of my family, a beloved Uncle. A man to look up to, to feel the warm glow of his face and the sparkle from his eyes. A giant whose hands I could press my face to, a colossus I could lean on and take comfort in his shade.
I watched television on that eerie Sunday in 1990 when a man who had been in prison all my life walked down a dusty path alone and ignorant of the power of his release. He walked for us all that day and we joined him in his freedom. I remember watching, knowing that the world had changed that day. We had only ever seen pictures of him as a young man with a full round face. This man looked frail and I worried for his welfare and state of mind after such a long incarceration. High hopes and pressure rested on this mans shoulders but he bore that weight and more as he gave his first speech as a free man. His poise and grace blew me away stirring my heart and opening my mind to new possibilities.
My children don’t know who he is. But, why would they need to know anything other than he was once President of South Africa? Yes, he was the first black president but they would question the importance of his skin colour. My children acknowledged their own skin colour for the first time this summer while comparing their brown skin next to Daddy’s pink skin. They don’t define themselves in terms of colour because it is simply not an issue. They have been brought up to know that we are all beautiful in our differences and that only our choices and actions divide us. They have never been confronted with racism because either I’ve been there to shield them or they have been oblivious to it. So the concept of freedom based on skin colour is alien to them.
They do need to know. They need to know that there are people who will judge a man based on, heritage, accent, colour and shade of skin – there are actually people who believe that light brown is more acceptable than brown (yes, really!). I know several people who are clearly racist in their beliefs but would be horrified to be defined as such. People judge based on their own views, fears and ignorance.
The world has lost it’s father figure, what will we do now he’s gone? Who will calm the troubled hearts of the world? I fear for the future. A future without his calming influence gained through 27 years of meditation. Nelson Mandela devoted his life to racial harmony. We should continue to grow and learn from his legacy. For my part, I will begin by teaching my boys that, while their skin colour and racial heritage really does not matter, they must be aware of people who might treat them differently because of it and remain strong. It feels like I’m bursting a bubble – in some ways I’d rather come clean on the tooth fairy and santa than this. It is my role as a parent to equip my boys with the tools and knowledge for life without me. I will begin this lesson with the story of a black man who fought and struggled for equality in his own land and won.
One man changed the world.
May God grant him paradise.