Oh now, I know, I know …. I should qualify that before anyone goes off in a tizzy.
If I applied a magnifying glass to every aspect of his personal and political life I’m sure I would discover plenty of chink’s in my hero’s armor. Did he keep every promise? Did he make no mistakes at all? Did he sometimes compromise when he should have stood firm? Did he endorse violence? Support dictators and strongmen? Is he really the picture perfect specimen most would like to believe? Is South Africa now the best run, most prosperous country in the world because of his leadership?
(For the record? No. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No.)
Let’s be honest here. If we discounted every potential hero on the basis of mistakes or personal indiscretions, I doubt even Ghandi would make the cut.
Mandela is just a man after all. But a man who has repeatedly demonstrated the strength of character to keep working for his understanding of the greater good – no matter the personal cost. A man who saw beyond the fear, the system, and the brutality of man, and somehow managed to not only cling to his sense of humanity, but inspire millions around the world to do the same.
I haven’t thought about Mandela very much for a while now. Yet suddenly this week I’ve developed Madiba fever.
We meant to see the Freeman-Eastwood homage to Mandela, Invictus, when it was in the theaters but somehow missed it. On a visit to the local Blockbuster earlier this week, I saw Invictus on the shelf and grabbed it.
The next day, news came out of South Africa that Mandela – now in his 90s and in fragile health – will attend the both the opening and final matches of the FIFA World Cup (yes, that’s soccer to Americans) being hosted this year by South Africa. I let out a “squeee” and did a little chair-dance. Call me silly, but I can’t imagine a South Africa without Mandela. I just can’t.
And so tonight, exactly one week before the first match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we watched the movie. And no spoilers here folks, just watch it. Seriously. Invictus is a great movie.
Watching it brought me back to February 1990, when my mother, father and friends gathered in sleeping bags on our living room floor to watch the coverage of Mandela’ release. To be honest, at the time I simply did not understand all the tears all the adults in the room kept shedding. I remember feeling that I should pay attention because this was important, even if I didn’t understand why. I don’t remember what Mandela said. But I do remember my mother shaking me awake when I’d dozed off, asking me to trust her … this was a moment I should always remember.
Twenty years later the world remains as difficult and scary a place as it was when Mandela stepped out of prison to change the course of his country’s future. It’s not realistic to believe one man can fix the world’s ills. In recent history, only those who have sought to destroy have had such a broad effect.
And I will never be a Mandela, a Ghandi, a Lincoln or a Martin Luther King, Jr., nor would I necessarily want to be. But I think I finally understand what my mother wanted me to see. We all have the opportunity to inspire – we have to choose to do it.