This week, Former South African president Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95, prompting a flood of blogs and stories about the widely respected humanitarian. From a look at Mandela's third wife, Graca Machel, to reflections on Mandela's timein Canada, HuffPost's Mandela-related coverage has been varied, compelling and, in many cases, quite personal.
Unlike many of our bloggers, I don't have a story about being touched by Mandela directly. Like most Canadians my age, I never met him. My knowledge of him was acquired two ways. First, I watched him on the news when I was a kid. If I'm being perfectly honest about it, I probably paid the most attention when watching the 1985 anti-Apartheid "Sun City" music video, which was in heavy rotation on MuchMusic at about the same time that I was discovering pop music. Then about a decade later, I researched Mandela's role in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as part of a project for my university "foreign correspondence" class. (The course was supposed to teach us how to report newspaper stories from abroad, but we set foot on territory no more foreign than the computer science lab, where we used the newfangled World Wide Web to conduct research about faraway places.)
So I didn't have one of those formative experiences where Mandela changed the course of my life. He was mostly a far-off figure to me at a time when I was mostly too young to fully appreciate the strength and dignity he maintained while making previously unthinkable strides for democracy and human rights.
But I do remember one thing: As I sat there in that computer science lab as an undergrad, reading about Mandela's government instituting the TRC, I was confused. I could not understand how a man who had suffered so much injustice, and seen so much suffering, could focus so squarely on forgiveness. How he could settle on a process that would place unity above revenge; healing above acting out on decades of morally earned anger and outrage. Sure, it seemed like the honorable thing to do. But what kind of human being would possess the patience, the transcendence and the selflessness to actually do it?
A human being like Nelson Mandela, I learned, as did the rest of the world. Which is a special and unusual kind of human being indeed.
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