“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 reddit.com 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.”