At first it was just news - a ticker under some inconsequential sporting event on the TV above the bar as I sat with a friend, dipping pita bread in hummus and scraping at the final bits of a mound of shawarma sitting between us. Then it was just another part of the never ending social media stream…Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter - another one of those mindless swipe up…swipe up…swipe up…
ok…swipe up…swipe up.
Then, when I got home, when I sat down on my couch, and when I found myself suddenly and uncontrollably weeping, that’s when it became real.
He was gone.
Nelson Mandela was gone.
I couldn’t discern between whether I was weeping for joy…celebrating a beautiful man’s life and the insanely invaluable contributions he’s sacrificed his own life and time and youth (twenty seven years in a South African apartheid prison!?? TWENTY SEVEN YEARS!!) to improve the future of society and humanity as a whole - the ultimate empathy - or was I weeping out of desperation and sadness, wondering whether the sacrifices he made, ones that are absolutely harrowingly unimaginable to the majority of today’s population - out of the realm of reality - were they all for naught? Have we absolutely let this man give what is usually the most fruitful and passionate years of his life in absolute vain? Have we learned nothing and taken all he has done for us for absolutely granted? Has anything really changed?
As a Palestinian living in a post-911 America, it doesn’t take too much digging to see that bigotry and ignorance is still not something of the past, it just happens to manifest itself in new and creative, and, unfortunately, often primal and savage, ways. Ask any Latino living in Arizona, ask any Arab living in the Midwest, ask any Jew living in Europe, ask any African American living in the South, ask any caucasian living in the Middle East. Bigotry, hatred, ignorance…they have not disappeared. And more likely than not, they never will.
But then, as I was thinking about all of this, out of nowhere, and very suddenly, I stopped. I stopped weeping. And within a fraction of a second, that weeping was replaced with a smile. A undeniably joyous smile. And I knew exactly, and immediately, why.
While racism and hate and bigotry may never disappear, while everyone may never have everyone on everyone’s side, the world is still closer together and more connected today than it has ever been. And that is a HUGE step forward. We began to separate as we roamed the earth over millennia, and now we're coming back together again. It’s only a matter of time before we all realize that we are all brothers and sisters, and always have been, and no matter what we try to do about it, we’re all in this thing together. And that, perhaps, may be the only absolute truth and, ultimately, our saving grace.
I started to think this. I started to express this. I started to write this. And now, here I am, publishing this. Me. By my own will.
Because I am free.
And it’s because of you Nelson Mandela. It’s because of you. And those who inspired you. And those whom you’ve inspired.
You have done your work, you have done your job, you have more than earned the right to
rest. in. peace.
As for us, it’s now our turn to take that baton and run with it. Hopefully, Mr. Mandela, hopefully…we shall do you proud.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” -Nelson Mandela