The other night I was in Regent Park, near downtown Toronto, at the Nelson Mandela Park Public School observing a small candlelight vigil.
It's of personal significance as we were there with a close friend -- whose eldest child was expressly named "Nelson" after the recently deceased icon Nelson Mandela.
I was also was there with my family and my incredible wife, who was born and grew up in Apartheid South Africa before moving to this beautiful country of Canada when she was 12. My wife saw these kind of images and lived through them first hand as a member of the non-ruling Afrikaner class.
His famous quote is on a picture frame superimposed over his photo: "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use."
As I reflect on some of our political leaders at a municipal or federal level -- when you measure them against the standard of Nelson Mandela, they all seem to be a bit wanting, don't they?
When I reflect and think about reading his incredible book "Long Walk To Freedom" there is one word that comes to mind: Forgiveness.
Imagine, after being confined to a solitary cell for over 20 years on Robin Island and then upon being released from prison, he forgives his captors rather than seeking revenge. He believed that education is critical in the fight against ignorance and racism. I wish I could say I'd have such dignity and strength of character if someone wrongly imprisoned me for most of my life. These days most of us take major umbrage (myself included) if someone tweets something negative at us, let alone being locked up in prison.
Another word that comes to mind: Leadership.
And although Nelson Mandela, or Madiba, as he was commonly known, was born and raised in South Africa, we Canadians should note that Nelson Mandela was the first foreign leader to be appointed an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada. Think about that for a minute. He was also an honourary Canadian citizen.
On a personal level, I smile and think of when I went to South Africa for the first time back in 2004. We were getting a tour around Johannesburg and I asked my in-laws to stop the car when we came near Nelson Mandela's home.
I've never been a 'fanboy' of anyone but after reading Nelson Mandela's book "Long Walk to Freedom" that changed. So I got out of the car, crossed the street and proceeded to the security blockhouse in front of Mr. Mandela's home.
The security cameras above the fences all turned towards me in unison and I can hear very loud, very mean dogs barking behind the fences.
I walk up to the intercom system and press the button. (During all of which my poor wife's relatives must think her husband has completely lost his mind.) The security guard in the blockade unit -- behind bullet-proof glass -- answers my page.
"How can I help you, sir?"
"I don't know if you can tell but I'm not from South Africa and visiting from Canada."
"Yes, I could tell that sir."
"Really? Because of my accent?"
And he says in this beautiful South African accent and big boisterous laugh:
"No....by your face! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
I proceeded to tell the security officer that I used to march in anti-apartheid protests in high-school and then ironically married a South African. I figured why not drop by and see if Mr. Mandela was available to say hello? The worst they could say to me was no.
The security officer tells me that Mr. Mandela is currently away in Cape Town and would not return until the following week when we leave to go back to Canada. But he then says that if Mr. Mandela was in town that day, he would have allowed me meet him.
How I would have loved to have met one of South Africa's, Canada's and the World's Finest leaders to come in a generation. What a rich life and sad loss on a global scale.
May he rest in peace.