You know those hypothetical conversations? Those moments when you imagine what you would say, how you would feel, and how you might interact? I imagine myself having the distinct honor of interviewing Nelson Mandela, Madiba himself. Yesterday he passed away at the age of 95. Twenty seven of those years he lived in prison because of his stand against apartheid.
I imagine myself being able to sit down with this great and humble man and just taking in his presence. You know how that is? When you are in the room with a person who is famous and you just don’t have the right words to express how much they have meant to you, how they have impacted your life, and you are better for having known just a little bit about them…yeah that’s the emotion I have as I enter the room where Nelson Mandela is sitting. He looks out the window as I find my seat. Light catches his irises and there is a deep sense of knowing, a deep sense of wisdom. I’m not placing Madiba on a pedestal here, I just have a deep respect for this man who brokered freedom for the majority of South Africa. He had his flaws, the ANC party certainly wasn’t above death threats and bombings, but the man, not the party sits before me.
I have some notes scribbled down on a small spiraled note book in my hand. I have to clear my throat in order to work up the strength to ask my first round of questions. I feel immensely intimidated. Despite his humility, I feel as if I am unworthy to have this opportunity to talk with him. How does one act in the presence of greatness? Again, one who has endured so much and accomplished much more, how does one find the adequate words to speak to such a person? He smiles a reassuring smile, one that encourages me and without words says “It is alright, I understand.”
In my mind we have a conversation, he is gentle and soft spoken, yet behind his words he is as strong as a lion in the veld. We laugh together as the tension breaks…and I shed some tears in his re-telling of history. In my mind this interview reshapes my understanding of South Africa. In my mind my childhood as a missionary kid in South Africa is altered. I didn’t fathom the severity of apartheid rule until just now…I knew it to be horrific and wrong as a child yet never understood its severity.
But now as unity is prayed for, as we all mourn in Madiba’s passing…a great man has passed from the shadow of this earth and in his wake we are left hoping that tomorrow will be better because of his impact on our yesterdays. Sleep well Madiba, I pray one day to be able to sit down with you in Eternity and finally have that interview that I have rehearsed in my mind. Words cannot express how deeply you have impacted me, nor the vacancy your passing has left in the lives of South Africa and others around the world.
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” ― Nelson Mandela