After visiting Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, KY, my uncle from India shared, “Being in the presence of where great men have been, gives us the opportunity to aspire to some of that greatness.” That quote has stuck with me through the years.
The last two weeks have been filled with reminders of greatness. Our country commemorated the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I was too young to see JFK in person, but I heard stories from my family members about what he inspired in them. This past week, the world mourned the loss of another leader, Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was someone I was able to see in person, someone who inspired us all by his own story, and taught us the best way to handle difficult situations. His response to his imprisonment taught us how to work together towards reconciliation. His example is something we can all use as we work to deal with others who do us wrong, or perceived wrong.
I was in middle school when I got to see Nelson Mandela in person accepting an award from the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. I don’t remember what he said, or if he even said anything at all. I just remember the presence of greatness.
I did not understand the depth of what this man meant to South Africa until my Sub-Saharan politics class at UK. Quoting the thesis from my research paper, “The South African nation was able to achieve its greatness and strength by the nationalism of its racially different groups, international scrutiny following World War II concerning apartheid, and the realization that a resolution to the racial conflict was necessary.” Nelson Mandela had a hand in each aspect of this to help South Africa achieve that greatness.
Invictus, the movie, captures this nationalism that South Africa experienced. Mandela was able to unify a nation over the World Cup Rugby Match. The title of the movie was inspired from the poem, by William Ernest Henley. Mandela would recite the poem from memory during his time in prison. The ending lines of the poem provide the most inspiration of all.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
If Mandela could deal with everything he dealt with in his life, we can deal with what comes our way. That is his lasting impression and his sense of greatness for which we can all aspire.