Stop and remember.
Today is one of those days. You’ll remember where you were when CBC Radio interrupted regular broadcast to announce that Nelson Mandela had died. So stop. And remember how much you have to be grateful for.
I am sad but also grateful that a man who suffered 27 years of emotional and physical torture in a cold and dark stone prison on an island off the Cape in the Indian Ocean, suffers no longer.
I am also touched that his life touched the life of my family. My dad worked in South Africa for several years. He even got to meet him on one occasion. My dad doesn’t talk about it much but I know enough to know it meant the world to him to shake his hand. And it means the world to me that I can tell my children that Grampa met him once. Mandela was kind and made sure my dad understood that what he was doing in South Africa was meaningful. The most meaningful things in life are also the most humbling.
I was working as a research assistant on the Hill when Mandela addressed Parliament. Parliament Hill is a busy, self obsessed, fussy place on the best of days. When he visited, it was calm, peaceful, respectful. That’s not something normally associated with the House of Commons. It was him. He had a presence, a respect and an effect on people. He appreciated Canada for reaching out to him. He was the first non-elected person to ever address the Houses of Parliament. His speech from that fateful day speaks to his deep appreciation of who we were as a country.
I visited South Africa a few years later. I learned things I never needed to learn. That the rich had rape gates in their homes. That dogs could be trained to attack only black people. That doing your own laundry could cause a revolt among servants who lived in tiny shacks far away from their own families so grateful were they to even have a job. I also learned that when a country is isolated from the rest of the world, some weird shit can go down.
It was the most shocking and insightful six weeks of my life.
Mandela’s struggle taught me that there is beauty in revolution, poetry in justice and that freedom is an art that speaks to everyone.
But really, for all our issues and all our concerns, we have no idea how the rest of the world lives. We need to stop and remember how lucky we are. He would want that because he would know that it would help us be better, kinder, more loving human beings. Revolution, justice and freedom. That’s what he spoke for. What he lived for. What we need to stop and remember him for.