Thank You, Nelson Mandela

Ronald Reagan vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, a veto which was supported by a congressman from Wyoming, Dick Cheney.

We’re not a country governed by leaders. We’re a country governed by criminal bankers, homicidal gun lobbyists and a community organizer who’s currently down on himself.

Chin up, Barack. There are angels guiding us. Trust me on this.

Nelson Mandela died tonight. Somewhere in my heart, I’m sad to know we walked the Earth at the same time, and yet, I hadn’t done enough with my life to earn the right to call him Madiba.

Even before he died, Nelson Mandela was my imaginary friend. Nelson Mandela, and the way he lived his life, embodies my understanding God, who teaches us this indelible lesson, “It’s what we do with what we believe, not simply what we believe.”

Truth & Reconciliation.

Equality.

Restorative Justice.

46664, the prison number of Nelson Mandela, where he spent 27-years, on Robben Island.

It’s not enough to believe. It’s not enough to bow your head. It’s not enough to offer thoughts and prayers. It’s not enough.

I can’t imagine standing before the court, on criminal charges, charges of treason, with a potential for the death sentence and saying this, “I’m prepared to die.”

What are you prepared to die for? Unlimited text messages. The right to browbeat a waitress who forgets to put a slice of lemon in your Diet Coke. 3D-Printed Guns.

What are you prepared to die for? A shot at fame and fortune as the white ingenue on SNL. A shot at fame and fortune as the over-the-hill sexpot on Dancing with the Stars. A shot at fame and fortune as the shooter in the next mass shooting.

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in affordable care. I believe in a livable minimum wage. I believe in welcoming immigrants to the table of bounty with graciousness.

I believe in perp-walking criminal bankers. I believe in waterboarding politicians who twisted torture into enhanced interrogation techniques. I believe in love.

But am I prepared to die?

In 1988, I was a student at the University of Florida. There was a protest at the Student Union against Apartheid. I had no idea what the protest was about. I’d never heard of Apartheid.

There were pretty girls at the protest, holding up signs, selling t-shirts. So I bought a t-shirt.

I spent the next semester studying abroad in England at Oxford. At the end of the semester, feeling guided by angels, I took a trip by myself to Paris, as a pilgrimage to the grave of Jim Morrison at the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.

My plan was to rent a motorcycle in London and make the drive to Paris through the Chunnel. My plan was doomed from the start, since the Chunnel only serves high-speed trains, not slow morons on motorcycles.

Even more, the Chunnel wouldn’t open until 1994. It didn’t exist yet. Which means I was planning on riding a motorcycle on water, across the English Channel.

My plan, or the memory of my plan, doesn’t matter, since the deal-breaking issue was this: I didn’t have a motorcycle license. So when I tried to rent a motorcycle, the guy at the motorcycle store told me I had the wrong license. I fought. He wouldn’t budge. I fought some more. He called me a wanker.

Dispirited, I wandered the streets of London, waiting for guidance from angels. They were too busy.

I wandered to the train station, bumping into a guy I recognized who worked the cash register at the motorcycle store. He asked where I was going. I didn’t know. So we did what you do in London when you don’t know what you’re doing: we drank, heavily.

A bunch of his friends joined us. We drank all night. At the end of the night, they offered me a couch in the house they were renting on the outskirts of town. The next morning, I woke-up hungover to the smell of strong coffee and runny eggs.

I puked, took a shower, put on a pair of boxer shorts and my t-shirt.

As I walked into the kitchen, the conversation switched from laughter to lecture. You have to understand, to me it was a green t-shirt with yellow scribbling. To them, it was a show of support for the ANC.

I’d never heard of the ANC. I’d never bothered to read the t-shirt.

They told me the ANC was illegal in South Africa, where they were from. I didn’t know they were from South Africa, until right then. To me, in 1988, all of the accents sounded British. I’d never met anyone from South Africa. I didn’t even know South Africa existed.

They told me Nelson Mandela was a bad guy. They might have told me Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, but I don’t remember, since back then, no one used the word “terrorist.”

They told me how all of their families were leaving South Africa, since the violence was making it impossible for decent families. I had no idea decent families meant white families.

I don’t remember if I stayed for another night of drinking. I think I left. But not because of anything we discussed. I’d like to say I left on principle. I’d like to say this was my political awakening. But it wasn’t.

I’d like to say I kept the t-shirt on principle. But the truth is, I liked the t-shirt, so I kept the t-shirt. I’d like to say I kept the t-shirt to make a statement. But the truth is, in 1988, I wasn’t into making a statement. I was into girls, beer and Jim Morrison.

It goes to show how my trip was guided by angels. Instead of ending-up partying at the grave of a spoiled rock star who did little more with his life than wear leather pants and write a few songs which would make their way into sticky songbooks at karaoke bars, I ended-up partying with racists on the outskirts of awareness.

Nelson Mandela didn’t just free the oppressed from Apartheid, he freed the oppressors from Apartheid. A lie in society is an infection which spreads, destroying the humanity of those on both sides of the lie.

It’s easier to be the oppressor while the lie contaminates your sense of self with authority. But when the lie is exposed, it’s harder to let go, admitting to yourself the authority is false, unearned. I’ll never know how, on Robben Island, serving a life sentence of hard labor, Nelson Mandela was able to uncover such a delicate insight. Or maybe I will, once I’m prepared to die.

Thank you, Madiba.

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4 Responses to Thank You, Nelson Mandela

  1. Claudia says:

    Beautifully written!

  2. Babs says:

    One of your best!

  3. BF says:

    Hear, hear!!

  4. Bob Marley says:

    “You can fool some people all time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnJCvKA-oEU

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