The Vessel is Gone but the Treasure Remains

“Dad, that’s pretty sad, isn’t it?” Brendan, my youngest son was getting ready to head in to university with me. Finals for this term are starting next week and he was planning to spend the day on campus studying.

“What is?” I responded.

“Nelson Mandela died yesterday. He was a good person.” Brendan was looking at me with that same genuinely caring expression I first started taking real notice of around 15 years ago. Like me, he loves to read, and also like me, his interests are diverse. Oftentimes we will find ourselves sitting side-by-side on the couch, each with a notebook computer on our laps. Both of us are “redditors”; that is we visit the website on a daily basis and see what others find interesting and commenting on. His sub-reddits do not exactly match mine, but we do have many in common, including /r/wordlnews. He had been following that thread so he knew the background.

He also expected a reply.

I thought about it for a moment. I would have been around Brendan’s age when I first learned of Nelson Mandela’s quest; an age where greatness leaves a lifelong impression. In the early days of my teaching career (the early eighties), like so many others outside South Africa, I followed the tumultuous events that eventually led to the ending of apartheid, the beginning of a more inclusive government and, finally, the ongoing quest for justice and reconciliation.

Through it all, there at the centre was Nelson Mandela; one who, though touted as ‘great’ never claimed to be anyone other than an ordinary person in search of justice. Imperfect, yes, one who freely related stories that revealed his flaws.

But still perfect in the one thing that really mattered: through his steadfast conviction to his beliefs, through his unwavering courage and mainly through the strength he drew from, and returned to, those he loved, he served as the perfect spiritual guide for all those who shared his thirst for equality, freedom and justice before the rule of law.

And yes, now he is dead. Dead, that is, at least, in the physical sense.

That said, for me here, almost half a world away, he is very much alive and always will be. The bearer of his brand of hope and conviction may be gone but what he represented, what he lived for, still lives on.

“No, Brendan,” I replied. “Right now I’m just glad of the fact that he lived at all.”


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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30 Responses to The Vessel is Gone but the Treasure Remains

  1. Hear, hear … well said, very well said indeed. D

  2. The last great freedom fighter and statesman.

  3. One blogger I follow said there would be quite a lot of blogs about Mandela in the next few days and I’ve already read half a dozen from my short list of blogs I follow.

    Truth is, he didn’t really impact on my life, apart from when he was freed – I was on a coach in France on holiday and it came over the news. Perhaps it was because of my parents’ racist attitude and their conviction that he was a terrorist – they had the same view of Yitzhak Shamir. So I must confess Mandela and his achievements passed me by, which is why I won’t be writing about him, I can’t justify it when I knew so little of him. It’s really only recently, having read more about him that I have even started to learn what he did – and what he suffered. Peacemakers come and they go. If only the peace they achieved would stay.

    • Reflecting on what you’ve said it occurs to me the sheer level of hypocrisy I have since witnessed subsequent to his death. It was not so long ago that the thatcher and Reagen governments declared his actions as contrary to the public good. And now–feted as a hero by those who followed those two. The world is such a frigged-up place; rudderless, it seems, in some ways.

      • Since you wrote this I have read more Mandela posts, obviously. And interestingly, more negative ones. Regarding your comment about hypocrisy, it was quite refreshing to read thoughts from people having the courage to stand up for their views and say that he was a terrorist and the ANC campaign of violence affected innocent people. Certainly when Thatcher died, there was some seriously vitriolic cant thrown around the interspherewhich was totally over the top. It seems we are incapable of rational analysis these days. Everything is black or white. Wonderful or evil. What’s wrong with saying – this person was good at this, not good at the other, but weighing it all out they left a good/bad legacy?

        That’s why I didn’t write about him, I didn’t think I had enough knowledge or experience to contribute anything. Whereas, for example on Thatcher, I lived through her years, and lived in two areas affected differently by her régime (the north of England did badly, the south prospered).

  4. Great post Maurice! When I lived and worked in Africa, I visited RSA many times and was indeed familiar with his fight for peace and his influence. The treasure indeed remains, but I’m a bit worried about how it’ll taken care of in the years to come in his country and in the world at large.

  5. jennypellett says:

    A wise reply, Dad. I can vividly remember watching his release, his walk along that road with Winnie , the crowds and the joy and realising what that meant. It was definitely one of those ‘I remember where I was when..’ moments.

  6. Martin says:

    Lovely, gentle post about a great man Maurice. Thanks also for the personal sharing about you and your son. Nelson M. is gone, but he and his legacy will never be forgotten. As you said so succinctly in your title, the vessel is gone but the treasure remains.

  7. Mary says:

    I am also glad that he lived. “Blessed be the peacemakers.” I hope that others at this point arise to take care to steer that ‘vessel’ and make peace his enduring legacy.During the years of his imprisonment, I worked in a library in an African Canadian community in Halifax and saw the inspiration his life and work gave there. As part of a planning committee for a birthday celebration in honour of him during the 80’s – while he was still in prison – discovered that the club we had booked – the largest downtown music venue – had an unwritten policy of not hiring Black musicians ( as did many of the clubs there and then). That year the club’s policy changed – Bucky Adams, a top Halifax jazz musician played for the first time there on Nelson Mandela’s birthday.
    So Mandela’s influence was felt all over the world – from South Africa – to Halifax and apparently even farther east to Nfld. Brendan’s reaction to his death and your response- a welcome post that truly resonates with me today. Thank you for posting.

    • Indeed. There are so many who anxiously and actively forget/squash history, preferring to act as if some events never happened. The thing we should never forget is that events, no matter how bad, can always leave lessons. Even if the event is painful, good can come from it.

  8. elkement says:

    Thanks – my timeline is flooded by things Mandela-related but your post stands out.
    I admit that whenever I am reminded of an important part of history that happened in my lifetime I often feel I missed it. For example, I can hardly really remember the fall of the iron curtain – probably one of the most important events in European history I was “witness” to. At that time I was too absorbed with my own adolescent woes obviously. I feel the same when I read all the obituaries today.

    • I think that is totally understandable. To outsiders the fall came and was spectacular; welcome. To you and to others closer to the situation, and much more aware of the true facts and context, the events unfolded in a way that was much more understandable, natural. As such, they did not stand out at the time. Only when time adds a little distance, provides for broader view do they become more clear; more real.

  9. seeker says:

    Me, too. I hope that justice and reconciliation will abide. There are white Afrikaans that will not forget that he once was a terrorist.

    • Indeed. People view events through the lenses and values of the time. These are influenced to such an extent by popular media and by “following the crowd” that people often miss the whole truth. Only with time and with the wisdom that comes from some, is the true nature revealed.

  10. t says:

    I studied events in SA, apartheid and its consequences as part of a Sociology course. I never imagined quite how terrible it was or the full extent of the implications until I did that course. Nelson Mandela, one amazing man full of conviction, devoid of bitterness and committed to a Rainbow Nation. Like your son I am saddened that Mandela is no longer present but his presence is truly everlasting.

  11. Lovely piece, well said.

  12. Beautiful and touching Maurice, I remember going to a Free Nelson Mandela concert and not really knowing much at the time. It educated me to seek out his story. His life story I read and it changed me forever, I was in awe of his most positive trait FORGIVENESS. An amazing, intelligent man and yes like you, I am grateful he was present in my life time.

  13. Thanks for articulating what I was feeling (couldn’t put my finger on it). I was feeling somewhat strange that I haven’t felt very sad (wondering whether I had my feelings had gone numb, usually I too easily feel sad about death, anyone’s death). The gladness about his life’s work & accomplishments overwhelms the sadness.

    • In this busy, crazy world, sometimes numb is what we need for a while. Rumination is the thing; a time to drop down to a lower energy state and just think things through.
      But not for too long, of course–life has a way of passing the slow-pokes by 🙂

      • I’m going to have to ruminate on that Maurice (well, actually, I’ve been contemplating it so long that it’s probably time to put some words to it). The importance of taking the leisure to just “be” (and “being” instead of “driving toward” is the only place where I can “drop down to a lower energy state”) is very important to me. And such a struggle in this harried world. And yes, I’m a slow poke. Is life passing me by? Certainly the world marginalizes me and my value, because I’m not much of a producer or consumer.

        I guess I’m talking about exactly what it means that Mary (rather than Martha) had chosen the one thing that is needful.

  14. Mjollnir says:

    A perfect answer Maurice. I’m sure I’m not the only who finds the fact that Mandela was aware of his faults and limitations made him greater but at the same time all the more human.

    • Very true. So very often the “story” just dwells on one side of a person–the side needed to support the thesis. The reality is that we are all flawed and one of the keys to happiness is learning to accept it and deal with it.

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