The soundtrack to my teenage years in the mid-eighties was filled with The Specials Nelson Mandela protest song; in school I spoke as captain of our debating team about the evils of apartheid in South Africa, and I witnessed the strike by 12 workers at Dunnes Stores in Dublin who protested for two and a half years, for the right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa. The dispute started when Mary Manning, a 21-year-old cashier, courageously refused to handle fruit from apartheid-era South Africa. Mary and her colleagues became a household name in South Africa and Mandela said that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment. Many years later when on honeymoon to South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in exile.
Nelson Mandela became for me and will remain the most iconic figure in my life time. In the eloquent words of Barack Obama he was a “man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.” The impressions made on us when we are young have such profound and lasting effects that it feels when something connected to that time is lost years later, that we also lose something of our youth. But it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with our youthful idealism. I am reminded of this again today, International Nelson Mandela Day, reading his quotes:
It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that determines the significance of the life we lead. ~ Nelson Mandela
Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.~Nelson Mandela
Our world is a poorer place for Nelson Mandela’s passing, but a far richer and better place thanks to his life – a reminder to us that we are capable of so much more in our lives and no longer settle for playing it otherwise.