My first hint that something was not quite right was when my husband left a voicemail for me in the middle of the work day. I was going to call him back when I saw the reason he called me on the web: Mandela had died.
It was just a week earlier that I had asked my employee Mahima if she had heard any news about Mandela’s condition.
It’s awe-inspiring how great leaders can influence so many. Legends like Mandela are more than just people; they are almost transcendent in their wisdom and foresight. In Mandela’s case, wisdom beyond his years led him through his suffering without ever giving up the same dignity and compassion he was demanding for every single person on this earth.
When Nelson Mandela took back his freedom and made his first trip to the US, I was working for a law firm with ties to him. I was given the opportunity to see him speak at Yankee Stadium along with my colleagues. There were cocktails and celebrities like Oprah, Toni Morrison and Phil Donahue…but the real attraction was the man who spent 27 years in jail on trumped up charges based on despicable, inhumane laws…and was standing before us full of forgiveness and devoid of bitterness.
While Mandela’s resolve ultimately led to the end of that vicious system of Apartheid, I sat at the sidelines and just observed what happened. What could I do? And how could I bring others to do something with me?
Perhaps you and I can be more like Mandela if we draw inspiration from some of the same places as he did, as in this short yet powerful poem by William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years.
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.