When I was born, Mr. Mandela was still in prison serving a life sentence with other anti-apartheid activists. And he would be there for nine more years.
I didn’t know about him and his fight when I was still young, didn’t know he sat in jail for 27 years while the country brawled around him. His chains represented the apartheid on his people.
From childhood, Nelson hoped to impact the fight for freedom in Africa. But he never sought to be an activist for black people especially; he longed for racial equality most of all. In his Speech from the Dock in 1964, he said,
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Despite knowing his oppressors were white, he never made them the enemy. A profoundly gracious and wise soul, he transcended the small minds who warred against him, making enemies of racism and inequality instead.
“A free and democratic society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities…an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Nelson, this is what I want too. Most of the sane among us agree. Yet while I believe in this virtue, is it an ideal for which I am prepared to die?
Many of us are angry about ageism and sexism and racism and all the other -isms that plague our hearts, though we don’t want to admit them.
I believe I don’t want anyone to be treated with disrespect because of things they cannot control, or choices they make that are not harmful to others. I believe people should be free to safely and freely practice the religions of their choice.
But I am afraid. And because of my fear, I am outside the fight. I am still not prepared to die. Or would I be, if the choice were presented to me?
Martin Luther King Jr. died for this cause. Nelson never had to. But both men were prepared to die.
And now in the passing of this Mr. Mandela’s great presence from our earth, the torch is passed to you and me.
Am I prepared to die for what I love and believe in, for Jesus, for freedom, for equality? Or am I still terrified of what I lose?
Do I remember that someone died for me first to free me from this crippling prison of fear?
And what about you? Are you ready to die for your freedom ideals? What would make you say ‘Yes’?