When three former United States' Presidents, the current President, as well as a likely future President all board Air Force One to fly halfway around the world for a funeral, it can easily be inferred that the person who died played a very transformative role on the world stage. And indeed, few individuals brought about as much change in the twentieth century as South Africa's Nelson Mandela.
Mr. Mandela, who died at the age of ninety-five on December 5th, and who spent over a quarter of his life in prison, emerged from that experience to become the first black President of South Africa. Mandela, in a spirit of reconciliation, invited his jailers to attend his inauguration.
While there has been much deserved praise of Mr. Mandela in the United States, there remains some serious hostility that appears to be based on race. Senator Ted Cruz, a tea-bagger poster boy, went off-script over the weekend and put up a piece praising Mr. Mandela on his Facebook page. Right on cue, the senator's Facebook followers went nuts as they angrily condemned Senator Cruz's remarks.
Also, a county sheriff in South Carolina who apparently has dreams of becoming Joe Arpaio, went on Facebook where he made a big show of declining to follow President Obama's directive that U.S. flags be lowered to half-staff out of respect for Mr. Mandela. The sheriff said, in part:
"Nelson Mandela did great things for his country and was a brave man, but he was not an AMERICAN!!!"
All caps and three exclamation marks. Really, Sheriff? Did you learn that emphasis technique at the Iowa Writer's Workshop?
The sheriff stirred up a hornet's next of patriotic fervor supporting his position, but he has since pulled down the posting.
(And the baggers wonder why they can't win elections!)
But, the crazies aside, the positive comments and stories regarding Nelson Mandela were profuse and inspiring. Perhaps an even greater acknowledgment of his life than four United States Presidents flying to South Africa for his funeral, would be what follows: a poem of respect by Maya Angelou. Praise comes no higher than that.
His Day Is Done
by Maya Angelou
His day is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind
Reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome
Reached us in the United States and suddenly
Our world became somber.
Our skies were leadened
His day is done.
We see you, South African people
Standing speechless at the slamming
Of that final door
Through which no traveler returns.
Our spirits reach out to you
Bantu, Zulu, Xhosa, Boer
We think of you
And your Son of Africa,
Your One More Wonder of the World.
We send our souls to you
As you reflect upon
Your David armed with
A mere stone facing down
The Mighty Goliath,
Man of strength Gideon,
Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid
Scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism,
In the bloody maws of South African dungeons.
Would the man survive?
Could the man survive?
His answer strengthened men and women
Around the world.
In the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas
On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco,
In Chicago’s loop
In New Orleans Mardi Gras
In New York City’s Times Square
We watched as the hope of Africa sprang
Through the prison’s doors
His stupendous heart intact
His gargantuan will
Hale and hearty
He had not been crippled by brutes
Nor was his passion for the rights
Of human beings
Diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment
Even here in America
We felt the cool
Refreshing breeze of freedom
When Nelson Mandela took
The seat of Presidency
In his Country
Where formerly he was not even allowed to vote
We were enlarged by tears of pride
As we saw Nelson Mandela’s
Former prison guards
Invited, courteously, by him to watch
From the front rows
We saw him accept
The world’s award in Norway
With the grace and gratitude
Of the Solon in Ancient Roman Courts
And the confidence of African Chiefs
From ancient royal stools.
No sun outlasts its sunset
But will rise again
And bring the dawn
Yes, Mandela’s day is done,
Yet we, his inheritors
Will open the gates wider
For reconciliation and we will respond
Generously to the cries
Of Blacks and Whites,
The poor who live piteously
On the floor of our planet
He has offered us understanding
We will not withhold forgiveness
Even from those who do not ask
Nelson Mandela’s day is done
We confess it in tearful voices
Yet we lift our own to say
Thank You, Our Gideon.
Thank You, Our David.
Our great courageous man
We will not forget you
We will not dishonor you
We will remember and be glad
That you lived among us
That you taught us
That you loved us