On Thursday a hospitalized Nelson Mandela turned 95. According to Newsspin’s Timothy Poleon, “it was a time for reflection.” The local newscaster and show host then proceeded to read from a Guyanese newspaper what sounded very much like an obituary, despite news coming out of South Africa that the nation’s former president was “recovering” from what widely has been reported as “a lung infection.”
When I had the opportunity, I asked Newsspin’s host what it was that had made Nelson Mandela so extraordinary, so special. The titillation was meant only to provoke further discussion. Tim offered the usual list of stations of the cross suffered on behalf of black South Africans forced to suffer the evils of apartheid, in particular, Mandela’s 27 years at Robben Island prison.
I then asked: “Why do you consider his birthday a time for reflection? What are we supposed to reflect upon?” Once more he reminded me of Mandela’s various trials and tribulations suffered for his people.
“You mean, like Martin Luther King?” I teased. “Like Frederick Douglass?”
Tim had good reason to wonder where the heck I was heading. Could I possibly be suggesting there was nothing extraordinary about Mandela? That because others before him had fought for racial equality, his own particular efforts had been rendered unremarkable?
On the contrary, even as I was taking in Tim’s earlier inspiring remarks about Mandela’s greatness, and Tim’s labeling his 95th birthday “a time for reflection,” I was thinking he might better have said this was “a time for introspection.” I couldn’t help wondering what was it that made billions and billions of us seem anything but human, that is to say human in the way Mandela is human, as Dr King, Frederick Douglas, Mother Theresa and yes, Jesus, were human. (Let’s for the moment leave the faith-based notions out of the discussion.)
Actually, from the start of my call I had made it clear I would not be referencing Jesus as a religious icon. One need not believe in God or in an afterlife; one need not adhere to a particular faith, to acknowledge there once was a particular man named Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and finally died on a Roman cross, having been declared guilty of sedition by the Roman occupiers of his native country. The history of Jesus, including tangible evidence of his existence, the related ruins and so on, have been preserved; they are around for close examination; undeniable. Indeed, whatever else
some might believe, none has ever doubted Jesus came into this
world a baby, lived and died here—crucified by politicians and their self-serving hacks!
I had not thought about any of this before. But even as Tim and I discoursed, it occurred to me that almost every great man you and I might name was killed by politicians, from Jesus to Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr, to the Kennedys Jack and Robert to Malcolm X.
Ironically, when in 1997 or 1998 we were honored with a visit by Mandela the newly elected president unwittingly walked into a war then being waged by our two political parties. Even now, our country is more than ever divided, simply because such little effort has been made to improve the way we regard each other.
Indeed, our vampire politicians thrive on the blood from our jugulars. Yes, indeed, while we contemplate the wonderful human traits that Mandela and his ilk epitomize, we might also give some thought to why the majority of us are what we are and growing daily worse. It is a subject deserving of more space, alas at this time not available!