There’s a feeling something is missing when someone who has touched your own life in some profound way dies. Like walking past a place where a great tree once stood. Or past a vacant lot in the middle of a city. There’s something unnatural about that empty space. We shrug or shudder as though a cloud has passed over the sun or a cold wind has curled its fingers into the fibres of our clothing. And although we continue to continue with our lives, things are never quite the same. New green shoots thrust upwards around the severed stump. A glassy edifice arises from the rubble strewn across the old foundation. We grow accustomed to the changes. Resigned. Stoic even. But there’s a hollowness. Things are never quite the same.
The King is dead. Long live the King! In Myth and fairy tale the natural order was righted when the old King died and was buried. The new king sat beside his queen on the throne and the cycle of life continued once more. Today in the world of politics there is no new king. No beautiful queen to sit beside him on his throne. Mandela has left no successor who can match his wisdom and stature as a statesman with a canny grasp of human psychology. An unruly rabble of politicians remain to pick at the carcass of his greatness and capitalise on his legacy. Mandela’s rich melodic voice rings out over 95 years of human history. He now sits in the hall of the ancestors and the sad sound of a mandolin plays in the rain of our tears.
Fate and free will lift some men and women high above the heads of ordinary people. uTata. Iconic Father of a fatherless nation still struggling with narcissistic teenage growing pains. His image printed on T-shirts, cook books, mugs and posters. His long walk to freedom leaves footprints in the sand of collective memory. We carry his greatness in our hearts and feel noble and dignified. Capable of magnanimous deeds and heroic action. Perhaps “freedom” means permission to behave like a prat and throw human excrement on the windows of public buildings; to own a Merc and wear bright-coloured designer clothing; or to sleep peacefully in your bed at night with doors unlocked and windows wide open. But, Mandela’s life has gifted us all with a glimpse of what is possible when we choose what true freedom can bring: Love not hate, forgiveness not revenge.
For some, his death brings with it a sense of relief that this Great Spirit has at last flown free from his frail old body to re-incarnate once more. For some, his death brings a hiatus in the busyness of life and a time to reflect on a personal and collective history when the rabid dogs of apartheid ripped this beloved country asunder. For some, this is a time to grieve deeply personal losses and mourn the death of this remarkable human being.
Mandela. uTata. Mabiba. Let us take into our lives your example of forgiveness. Let us lay this like a healing balm over the blistered sores of pain in our relationships with those whose behaviour we find so difficult to comprehend. Let us stand for just one moment, heads bowed, and feel the sprinkling of stardust from your Bright Star.
Bruce Hornsby & the Range performing Mandolin Rain.