Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela's Legacy: Handshakes for Peace

USA Today, Getty image.
Handshakes for peace.  President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro today at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa. A gesture of friendship, long overdue in my view. Obama is also trying to open dialogue with Iran.  Another positive gesture for peace in the troubled Middle East.  Any diplomatic overtures beat war. I hope our Congress gets this, as it listens to Secretary of State John Kerry today. I'm not optimistic on this score, given this Congress's abysmal record.

Nelson Mandela would get it of course; he would surely applaud these actions.  In the tradition of Gandhi, Mandela embodied the belief that reconciliation and dialogue are the ways to peace.   In forgiving his jailors, Mandela freed himself.  In loving rather than hating, in keeping his eyes on the prize, he freed a nation.

I remember hearing Mandela in Washington, DC in 1990.  My friend Suzanne and I stood in line for hours.  It was worth it, being in the presence of Mandela, recently released from jail. He was still married to Winnie Mandela; she spoke too. It was powerful. Moving. Electrifying. Mandela, free after 27 years in prison, seeking an end to Apartheid, finishing his life's work, with a grandness of spirit that overwhelmed.  Tears of joy flowed.

I never even considered his age at that time. I didn't see a 72-year-old man.  I saw a warrior for freedom, a youthful spirit, a transcendent soul. It was beautiful, for all of us, thousands and millions of us, many of us who had once joined in protests to free Mandela and end apartheid.  How often do we get to share a soul? How often are we in the presence of greatness beyond measure?

Obama knows this, acknowledged it in his eulogy: "He taught us to fight for a world united by our common hopes....[But] people are still struggling around the world....Our work is not yet done."  South Africa still struggles.  Deadly violence has erupted in the Central African Republic.  And not only in Africa.  All around the world, peace, justice, economic opportunity remain elusive.

Pope Francis is reminding us of this, too.  I see great hope in the Pope's journey.  He has joined the struggle.  He is keeping Mandela's dreams alive.

To continue Mandela's work and vision, this is, indeed, the very best way to honor his legacy.     
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