My day began early after ending late the night before because I made a mistake and scheduled two catering gigs — lunches — at the same time in two different places. Thanks to my friend Laura, who has been a sous chef on several projects, both events went well. But after leaving my journal and the book I’m reading at work yesterday and a couple of other dropped details, I’m mindful of one of the ways my grief is affecting me. I have to slow down and pay extra attention.
As we were preparing to leave Massachusetts, our friend Jay came to say goodbye. As he was leaving, I followed him out because I had some errands to run. He drove off and I got into my Cherokee Sport and started out of the driveway. Just as I got to the street, I realized I had left something in the house, so I put the car in reverse and got out. I didn’t stop the car; I just got out and then stood and watched as the car slowly rolled back into the door of the Pod we had sitting at the back of the drive. Once they crunched, I got back in the car and put it in park. The windows to the house were open and I heard Ginger say, “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”
I felt like I heard the same crunch in my life in a couple of different ways this week.
I was a kid in Africa during the Sixties, which means I was growing up as many of the nations were growing into independence. We were living in Zambia when freedom came in 1964 and Kenneth Kaunda became president. It was an amazing night. The leaders I came to respect first in my life were the people who did their best to help their continent recover from the damage of colonialism including Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, and Nelson Mandela. Tonight, in the midst of my fragmented life, I sat down to write only to find that Mandela is dead. One of the great lights of my lifetime is gone.
The world is full of politicians, but we have only had a handful of true leaders. Mandela is one of those who did more than take care of his own agenda. I remember watching as post-apartheid South Africa came into being and Mandela went from prisoner to president. After twenty-seven years, a certain amount of righteous anger would have been understandable. The former oppressors braced for what was coming to them only to see the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela helped his country incarnate a spirit of compassion and forgiveness. His determination and leadership strips the members of our houses of Congress of any excuse for their selfishness and intransigence. They are choosing to use violence and arrogance as their primary currency; it does not have to be that way.
Yes, I do realize that neither Mandela nor the transition to an independent South Africa was perfect and I am grateful — deeply grateful — to have been alive while he lived. In fact, I am amazed to think I have lived while Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Stephen Biko, Rosa Parks, Jimmy Carter, Vaclav Havel, Oscar Romero were also living. My list is by no means exhaustive; these are the ones who came to mind sitting here at the coffee shop. As I think about them, I am reminded that many around the world are working hard to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly — and calling us to do the same by their actions.
Rest in peace, Mandiba. Thank you.