The weather here turned crazy last night: rain, rain and more rain, cold, lightning and thunder. I couldn't sleep. Sat up until almost 5 a.m. reading about Mandela. This article from the New York Times, Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95, is comprehensive and full of things I didn't know about the man.
Born and raised as royalty. Given the name Rolihlahla -- which translates to "the trouble maker." The son of an African chief who was stripped of his authority by the British occupiers for "insubordination." There were strong clues from the very beginning that Rolihlahla's life would be large. I wondered as I read the bio, what does that kind of life feel like? It must surely include bouts with a bad cold and misplaced keys and all the rest of the mundane markers that define any life; but underpinned with royal beginnings and an unshakeable commitment to securing the freedom of your fellow citizens, maybe even bad colds are a different kind of experience.
The "shadow side" of Mandela's life: the breakups with wives, the conflicts within the ANC and elsewhere in the political arena, the phase of violent militancy...documented but hardly seem to have mattered to the millions who revered him. Because they/we didn't know about the shadow or because they were insignificant when compared to the great accomplishments? Most of the shadow revealed in the NY Times obit was new for me. I always assume the imperfection of every human, great or small; and, short of meeting a celebrated human like Nelson Mandela face-to-face and hanging out with him for a season, I accept as fact that I do not know them. I cannot see them clearly; their greatness and shadow are offered to me through the distorted lens of reports by "the media." I don't for a moment take these reports to be "the truth."
My preoccupation, as ever, is with the nitty-gritty realities of the players in Act Three: President Zuma, Winnie, the clarinetists in the military band, the maintenance workers who will clean-up after the final post-death event. I want to hear the story of the 9-year-old daughter of the undertaker who finds a battered signed copy of Long Walk to Freedom on her father's desk a week after the Mandela funeral; or the maid who cleans Oprah Winfrey's hotel room the morning she returns to the U.S. Or the rest of the Nelson Mandela story that will never be written in history books.