I was saddened by the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing. Whilst it was not unexpected, his death has set in train much reflective thought, not only about the man he was, but also about his leadership, which was imbued with a kind of power to bring people together that is rarely seen amongst today’s political leaders.
In an essay and a poem, previously published in the summer, here on the Bardo, the word ‘fortune’ featured large in their purpose. The essay, “Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat”, was also recorded in two parts and broadcast on Roger Alan Baut’s rather unique ‘Blue Sky Highway’ Episode 3 (on BlogTalk Radio). I did eventually write an epilogue over on ‘Forty Two‘, in which I told the story of my chance encounter with a devout Christian, who harboured rather bitter feelings toward Islam. Whilst not the subject of this post, it does focus on the fortune I sometimes feel, particularly inspired by great lives, whose vision spans across the whole spectrum of human purpose, beliefs and faiths. Nelson Mandela inspired those feeling in me.
There is a need to ask the question: has this man set the standard for world leadership and will any politician be capable of taking up his mantle; will just one world leader step out of their political comfort zone and turn Mandela’s legacy into a blueprint for a new future order?
Madiba, his tribal name, the man from Qunu, had fortune for sure, in that he was clearly born with the genetic foundation of a strong constitution; he was also, somehow, able to show courage of an exceptional kind, in all sorts of ways.
As an angry young man, he fought against an oppressive regime, who felt that segregation was the only way they could manage to control a population – and preserve the security of their / the nation’s (delete whichever you think is least applicable) interests. This was Apartheid, the slogan adopted in 1948 by the Afrikaner National Party, which the white regime maintained until February 1991, not long after Mandela’s release.
It took several years of concerted protest and sanctions from the international community eventually to bring about the release of Mandela and his fellow political conspirators. That might have been the end of it, but Mandela somehow mustered the magnanimity and strength to leave his anger and resentment inside the prison cell, which had confined him for twenty seven years. Not only this, but his new regime set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was an extraordinary attempt to bring about reconciliation between the oppressors and the oppressed and to learn how to forgive.
I feel very fortunate to have witnessed the effects of one man, who was supported by many of his own friends and fellow strugglers as well as by the many anti-apartheid movements and protests around the world, and sanctions, which the persistent pressure from those protest movements eventually brought to bear on political establishments.
Each of us is born with a unique footprint, a unique perspective, but each of us can also learn from our environment and from great lives. Nelson Mandela was a great man, a charismatic leader. His fortune was his birthright, his genes, which will have imbued him with some of the characteristics that enabled him to endure the privation of incarceration, absorb and process the positive and healing forces that worked on his mind during that time. The environment that surrounded him will have forged the spirit that underpinned the great leader and human being he came to be.
Human progress toward a better order in the world, toward peace, has as it’s building blocks, the example laid by such great lives. Mandela’s legacy therefore leaves us with an opportunity. Future leaders of the world don’t have to be imprisoned, to be freedom fighters or terrorists, to qualify as great leaders, but they, like each new generation, can learn the obvious lessons from the generation before them. Here’s hoping there will be more Nelson Mandela’s, who have the courage to step out of their comfort zone, to step away from anger and resentment, to show that fortune does favour the bold.
There has been much poetry written about this man; such was his influence and inspiration. I wrote this at the time of his death, amidst the chaos of some severe storms over the UK (hence the opening reference):
“Twenty Seven Years”
As the West winds blew their fury
the earth let out a cry;
as if to deny the awful truth,
it was more than just a sigh.
As if one life had greater value
than all of this; all of the love
that a world full of great lives
could bear; bear to contemplate
the loss of a legend, but
whose wisdom will be immortal …
How many years in a small, small room
with the same view through the bars.
How many years of breaking stone
that broke his view of the stars.
How many years of prayer and pain,
to grow his wings and fly,
like soaring eagle, dancing crane,
over mountains in the sky.
How many years to find his truth,
that helped empower his legacy
from the torment of a nation.
How long did it take to forge his spirit,
imbue his captors’ tears
with the power of his forgiveness
after twenty seven years.
– John Anstie
© 2014, John Anstie, All rights reserved
Photograph of Nelson Mandela taken in 1937 and in the United States public domain
JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).
John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising“. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.
* Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.
8 thoughts on “It is Our Fortune …”
John, a good summary of Nelson Mandela’s life and what he stood for and what we – in the wake of his greatness – hope will continue in our actions and ideals and in our expectations and fostering of other leaders. For us to carry on would be the finest homage and the truest expression of gratitude. Bravo!
Imagining 27 years of imprisonment is impossible…and yet, knowing one man’s story inspires the imagination. Could we all be capable of more focus, more forgiveness, more peace than we imagine?
This piece is filled with so very much to contemplate. Nelson Mandela was such a complex man who gave so much to this world. That said, you might think that I have missed the many fine points made here when I select something that strikes me most. That is your sentence: “I told the story of my chance encounter with a devout Christian, who harboured rather bitter feelings toward Islam.” That is what stuck out simply because of my thoughts this AM as I came here. And they were these.
I view religions as languages given by God to the people, languages to facilitate communication between the people and God. That is just something that I feel or believe. It may well not be truth. However, one truth that I know is that religion was not created as a tool of war. I was watching a PBS special (Public Broadcasting System, TV with value here in the US) about a young Muslim man from Somalia. He was expressing the joy that his religion brought to him. The joy in his eyes was beautiful. I have always enjoyed the beauty of all religions. How can one not? Well no, I do not care for those who carried out 911. But that is not what Islam is about is it?
And I thank God for people like Nelson Mandela. Forgiveness IS the key. It is the key to a happy and fulfilling life. Thank you and I love that you have written several poems since his passing. That is cool.
Thank you for your essay of a comment, Raven Spirit. As you say: so much to contemplate; for the rest of our lives; for as long as there is breath in our bodies, we should contemplate and take action for what is right.
Good questions, Priscilla, which I would answer by saying that most of us are capable of more focus, forgiveness and more peace. It is whether we are willing and able to calm ourselves sufficiently that makes the difference. Was it the Dalai Lama, who said words to the effect that the one characteristic of the human condition that prevents us from the essential qualities of peace and forgiveness, that causes so much conflict, is our propensity to be in a state of agitation..? Meditation is clearly required.
Oh, would that we could just do that, Jamie, but, as SlipMartin revealed in his earlier poem, don’t we all too easily allow our vision, inspired by great people, to be fogged by greed and self-interest? I guess there is no point in allowing ourselves to shrug and use this inevitable attitude to prevent us from trying.
Beautiful thoughts, John.