Yesterday, when I heard Nelson Mandela died, I felt not one drop of sadness. Instead I thought, this is the way a life should end. It should end filled with chapters of pain and struggle and triumph and learning. It should end when every ounce of possibility has been squeezed out of it and you have nothing left to give save the resulting map of human possibility.
I’ve read so many fictional stories with idealized protagonists that are meant to act as examples against which we model ourselves. Mandela was a rarity; he was a living breathing ideal. The story of his life shows us a real example of what a human being can do. Different parts of his story resonate with different people. I am most inspired by his time in jail. I find myself complaining every so often about the little hurdles and challenges that come my way. I find myself impatient for certain struggles to pass and itching to reap the rewards of my effort sooner rather than later. But then I think about Mandela who spent 27 years in jail. That’s a lifetime for some. I can’t imagine the amount of resilience, patience and forgiveness he had to have in order to endure almost 30 years of captivity. Not only did he endure 27 years without freedom, but he emerged from it with a smile, a willingness to continue and without resent.
His sentence to jail, at the time, might have seemed like the end of his story, but it was really just the beginning. We know this now. I can’t help but wonder how many “ends” are taken at face value, and not looked at as a “beginning.” I read somewhere that time is a man’s most valuable asset. As long as you have time you have a chance, you have the chance to fill your life with the things you want it to be filled with. So why not go for it? Why not milk every drop of experience–good or bad–out of your life, knowing that every drop is contributing a larger picture?
Locked up in a jail cell, Mandela didn’t have freedom but he had time; so he still had a chance to live out his dream. And didn’t he do that and more? His life is thus not only a testament that we too can live out our dreams, but that we should because it’s possible. It’s possible for all of us to live a life like Mandela’s–to march steadfastly and patiently toward our goals no matter how far or far fetched they might seem. Because as he so simply said, “It always seems impossible…until it’s done.”