An Icon Passes

It’s been more than two years since I researched the life and times of human rights activist, Nelson Mandela. Some of his quotes inspire me still.

In fact, reading about his prison experiences reminded me sharply of the Apostle Paul.  They both spent years in prison, but while they were there they refused to give up hope. In fact, they wrote letters encouraging others to keep fighting the good fight.

Mandela’s story has a happier ending. I was inspired by the movie Invictus to discover the actual truth behind the man. It was a fascinating, enlightening, heartening, inspiring and infuriating journey.


I’m not a history buff. I had heard Mandela’s name bandied about, but I didn’t know him from Malcolm X in the scope of beliefs and actions.

He was called the Black Pimpernel because he kept managing to disappear whenever the authorities closed in on his location. As a literary nerd, the allusion  to The Scarlet Pimpernel grabbed my attention.


Injustice happens everywhere. If I spent all my thoughts and energy learning about the various examples of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, I’d have nothing left for anything else. Further, I’d be so depressed or enraged; it wouldn’t be healthy.

Why had I never connected the dots that apartheid stemmed from the Dutch colonization of South Africa? The same movement toward colonizing the far reaches of the world that led to the birth of the United States of America hatched tyranny in many other places.


Forgiveness, or the lack thereof, is a huge problem. If religious people with different beliefs could truly practice it, wars between factions could cease.

This is what Mandela embodies in my own mind. He walked out of prison and chose to forgive those who put him there. Did this mean he suddenly endorsed their viewpoint? No.

He understood that the future can look to the past for assistance but it cannot hold onto the grievances of the past. He didn’t want to kill his enemies; he wanted to learn to peacefully coexist with them.

Some ideologies had to die on both sides for this peace to be won. Compromise doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If Mandela had come at his opponents with guns of retribution blazing, all would have been lost. By being a man of character, he won the respect of his adversaries and eventually of an entire nation. Perhaps, an entire world.


Role models abound. Down the street, across the country and in the far corners of the world. The ones who make the news win the Nobel Peace Prize. The rest of them have an even greater reward waiting in eternity.

Mandela is hardly the first person to suffer imprisonment for disagreeing with the powers that be. He is not unique in continuing to be revered during his absence from society. Many have suffered the same fate.

He inspired me because his wisdom was coupled with humility. He was adored by his fellow countrymen and feared by those who supported the fallen regime. He used his power to unite a country.

Old hatreds die hard. I pray Mandela’s ideology will continue in his homeland. I believe it will because true heroes inspire others to follow in their footsteps


As every good American can claim, I am a melting pot of cultures. I have ancestors that sailed on the Mayflower and ones who walked the Trail of Tears. Their pain and discovery opened the door into the world where I now enjoy freedoms they died pursuing.

Mandela was a product of colonizing forces, as well. His tribal ancestors were driven away and oppressed beneath apartheid. Fortunately, he believed in freedom and that true freedom meant forgiving his oppressors and learning to work toward a common goal.

What gives us the right to walk into a society different than ours and decide it needs our assistance? What makes one culture superior to another? Who can judge such a thing?

Change is inevitable and most of the time, it’s for the better. It’s one thing to offer education and assistance to a culture that is struggling to survive because it lacks the knowledge to effectively utilize its resources. Forcing someone to yield to your ideologies is a whole different can of tyranny.
















Related Posts:

Nelson Mandela, Rest in Peace

Long Live Peace. Long Live Nelson Mandela

4 thoughts on “An Icon Passes”

    1. Don-
      Thanks for posting the poem Invictus on your blog. I really think it does sum up Mandela’s state of mind when he became president in South America.
      Also, thanks for visiting in my new location. Many of my WordPress followers haven’t followed me here – at this point.

      1. Hey Sharon, absolutely my pleasure, I’m more a film person than a reader and enjoyed the film …

        Support can migrate the followers from WP.com to self-hosted, just post in the forum and they’ll do it … or if you don’t want to migrate, could you reblog on your old blog ?



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