When I heard that Nelson Mandela had died today, I felt like my grandfather had passed away. At the advanced age of 95, it was not unexpected. But I wanted him to live forever or at least until someone else could fill his shoes. Truth is, no one can replace Grandfather, his kind eyes, his beautiful smile, his ability to make everyone feel special in his presence.
We can barely comprehend who he was and how he came to be. Nelson Mandela was a living legend already, half a century ago.
In his life time, he fully represented three archetyes: The Warrior (as an anti-apartheid freedom fighter), the Wounded Warrior (jailed for 27 years), and the Sage (having emerged from his imprisonment as the wise man who was able to lead his country into a new era).
With so many examples of spirits broken through war, torture, imprisonment, or grinding poverty, how did he come through as a whole and wise person, how did he not succumb to the need for revenge, to strike out against those who jailed and mistreated him? Where did his inner strength come from?
What are the lessons we each need to take from his example, lived so well and so completely?
He leaves a gaping vacuum. However, if we wait for someone else to step in his shoes to continue his life’s work, we are missing the point. We each must find what calls us and pursue it with courage, creativity and conviction.
The following quote has often been mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela, but actually came from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love:
Our Deepest Fear
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Did he not exemplify this call to action with his entire wondrous and precious life?!
And what keeps us, you and me, from doing the same? How many times have we played small, passed an opportunity to show up in a big way, because we really didn’t believe that we were that good, that smart, that creative, that what we had to offer would make a difference? How many times did we doubt, second-guess, step back instead of jumping in, sharing our deepest, honest truth, shutting out all distractions to dig deep into that creative space that only exists inside of us? Who else has lived my life, seen the world through my eyes, felt the wind through my skin, trembled with my fears, thought my thoughts, had my insights? And if I change and adapt them because I think they will be more “acceptable” or more “palatable” to others, do I not become a traitor to my own experience?
We need fresh ideas, new ways of creative thinking about old problems… the world is at an impasse, sliding down the melting glaciers into a polluted, dark sea of sameness. Some of my friends are afraid to make comments on Facebook because the NSA and its web crawling spies are looking for those who stand out.
Millions of college graduates are forced into indentured servitude for the next few decades to pay off their student loans, if they can even find a job. Many more millions sell their precious time for minimum wage, a weekly lottery ticket their only hope at ever improving their lives.
Retirees live in fear of disappearing penion funds and security for the remainder of their lives.
Our food supply is contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, leached plastics and genetically modified organisms.
Who has time and energy to think creatively, to come up for a gasp of fresh air, in the midst of it all? Sometimes, it all just seems too much, as if no amount of effort could turn the ship around, away from the roar of Niagara Falls. And if Nelson Mandela had given up, crumbled in his solitary cell under the oppressive weight of it all, where would we be today?
Here is hoping that Nelson Mandela’s flowering will seed a world of flowers:
Thank you for the inspiring light you were and continue to be for us, Nelson Mandela!