For Mandela

Near Pretoria, South Africa.

At Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

So, to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela on his passing, I wanted to post a picture from my only trip to South Africa back in late summer of 2000, just a few years after his release from prison and election as the country’s president. I found a pic of me kneeling at a roadside commemorative plaque where he was arrested in the ’60s. I found one of me standing next to a statue of him in a traffic circle. I found several pics taken when I visited Robben Island, his prison home of nearly 30 years including one of the very cell where he remarkably kept his mind and spirits sharp as his body languished. I found a pic of myself at a public school that had been recently renamed in his honor. But none of these seemed quite right.

Then I came across this picture I took while on a day’s ride through Pilanesberg Game Reserve with some friends. For some reason, this one struck me more than the ones that directly related to or reflected Mandela the man.

Then, when looking for something to explain why this imagery moved me to think of him, I came across this quote from a blog post about herons (though this is likely a Great Egret):

“His feet moving so as not to disturb the water and scare his intended prey…the sense of peaceful intention. Quiet solitude. Purposeful.”

That, to me, sounds like Mandela as I’ll remember him and his legacy, in simple terms.

If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have even wanted to go to South Africa when I did, especially so relatively soon after apartheid’s fall. Seeing those pictures of myself by the site marker where he was abducted by the police, at a school named after him, and standing next to a statue of him on a rural township road, remind me that I am part of his legacy, tangibly and psychically.

It’s sad that his greatness is gone from the earth. We have to let him live through our own ongoing acts of compassion for one another’s travails, forgiveness for wrongdoings, and perseverance of self-dignity through undignified assaults on our own humanity.

Rest in peace, Tata. You deserve the stillness you’ve found.

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