As the world mourns Nelson Mandela and the details of his life roll in through every media outlet, I am struck mostly by a little known fact: his given name was Rolihlahla, which in Xhosa means “Troublemaker”. Nomen est omen. Your name is your destiny.
When Mandela was freed from prison and I heard the story of how he singlehandedly brought down apartheid, changed the destiny of South Africa and in the process changed the world, I was instantly fascinated by him. His warm smile and that twinkle in his eye made me like him even more. I had never seen a world leader “be himself” without having to brace for the backlash. He was fearless.
A man of royal beginnings that spent 27 years in prison for speaking against an oppressive government, stepped out into the sun and sent a message of forgiveness and unity. Putting aside the bitterness that almost three decades of confinement can inflict, his strategy was to “embrace his enemies”. His enemies “hugged him back” and were humbled. Bringing down apartheid was nothing short of a miracle and it was interesting to see how Mandela went from leader, to president, to the first living “celebrity saint”. But most importantly, how he became a troublemaker for peace.
Despite his failings as a human being, he was true to his beliefs and his mission, and that’s what made him the leader he was. He never betrayed that. He was married to his mission, and he tended to her with love and devotion. And maybe the secret lies in the analogy: a man that loves women is a man that was taught how to love, rather than hate.
Don’t we all have the obligation to continue his legacy of peace, love and equality by teaching our children the lesson of “universal love”? Is it too late to teach all those haters in Congress how to go about it? There is something inherently wrong when the country that has the most diverse population in the world, cowers at the thought of universal health-care, education for all, and an immigration bill. Where is the “troublemaker” that will bring that change? Where is the fearless leader? I'm still rooting for Obama, however it's fair to ask: Can we all be agents of change? Can I start by changing my home? My street? My neighborhood? (My closet?) What about myself? It takes courage...and courage is the signature of the troublemaker. Who wants to be a troublemaker?!
Why do we love Mandela? Why do we mourn him? Why does the world feel a bit empty today? Because the world will miss his embrace, and the thought of not witnessing the likes of another Mandela any time soon is too much to bear. Thank you Nelson Mandela. Rest in Peace.
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