I learned of Nelson Mandela’s death yesterday on Facebook. It popped up while I was reading comments from people in response to a blog I had published on HuffPost about my sexuality. I had just had a good cry at the outpouring of love and support I was feeling when I saw the news about Mandela’s transition.
Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who spent 27 years in prison. When he was freed in 1990, he was quoted as saying, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
He would go on to become a politician and philanthropist, serving as South Africa’s president from 1994 to 1999.
Yesterday, President Obama called Mandela “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.” South African President Jacob Zuma said, “What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Last night I watched the news with my girlfriend and her 95-year-old mother. Her mother wondered aloud if we would ever see another Mandela, if the young people today could ever be that courageous.
I believe there’s only one Mandela, but there are many courageous people in the world, young and old. That courage may or may not be demonstrated on a world stage, but it is there.
One of my favorite Mandela quotes is: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I felt courageous yesterday when my HuffPost blog ran, not because people were telling me I was courageous for having written and shared it but because I had pushed through fear to write and share it. Now that it’s out there I’m hearing from people who are thanking me for putting words to what they feel. I’m hearing from others who are essentially rolling their eyes and saying “get over yourself.” And then there is silence from some of my loved ones, which leaves me to wonder what they’re thinking.
“The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think” someone posted on Facebook the other day.
I used to spend a lot of time in that prison. I still climb inside it and peer through the bars. But I don’t stay there long. I don’t have that kind of time.
In honor of Nelson Mandela–and to honor ourselves–I invite each of us to do something courageous today (and the next and the next). For one person that might be getting out of bed. For another it might be getting out of a marriage–or staying in one. Whatever it is, let’s not let fear stop us from doing what needs to be done, from saying what needs to be said.
R.I.P. Mr. Mandela.