Wandering off the trail: Courage

In the coming days, there will be many who speak about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and the vast majority of them will do so with far more eloquence than I could ever hope to muster. Still, I feel I must comment, because of what he meant to me, and to so many others. I’m not a great believer in heroes – we are all human, which means that we are all innately flawed in some way. I’m certainly not here to canonize Mr. Mandela, nor do I believe that he would want that. He never presented himself as anything but a humble servant to a noble cause. Yet, if when each of our lives comes to an end, we are judged by weighing our good choices and deeds against our poor ones, surely Mr. Mandela must rank amongst the greatest leaders with which the world has ever been blessed.

When I think of Nelson Mandela, I think of many things, but mostly I think of the word “courage.” Courage means different things to different people, though it’s fair to say most think of courage in physical terms. Surely Mr. Mandela faced great and constant threats to his physical well-being during his long struggle against apartheid, both in and out of prison. There is however another type of courage… the courage to choose love over hate, reconciliation over retaliation and retribution. How many of us for years hold petty grudges over perceived slights. Here was a man imprisoned for 27 years for little more than demanding to be treated like what he was – a man. If ever anyone had a right to feel bitterness and a desire for revenge, it would have been Mr. Mandela. Yet after his release from prison, he never spoke of anything but building bridges. There was never a hint of bitterness in his words or deeds.

There is a great lesson to be learned from the way Nelson Mandela lived. I’m not naive enough to think it’s a lesson that will be taken to heart by many, but there will be a few who will take note, and be inspired to carry on the struggle with similar grace and dignity. Maybe that’s enough. Mr. Mandela was wise enough to know that the struggle for justice is a long, slow battle. Patience was another of his virtues. So we wait, and we hope, and we keep standing tall… and we take comfort in the knowledge that we were fortunate enough to live at a time when we could witness firsthand such an indomitable spirit. In terms of stoutheartedness, we can safely say that in our lifetimes, a giant walked among us.

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