daily preciousness

Friday, May 12, 2000

unheard and unseen

I saw Nelson Mandela today.

He spoke at Southern University's commencement. Imprisoned unfairly in his country for more than a quarter of a century, this man won a Nobel Peace Prize for his fight for racial equality in his native South Africa.

Speaking in a weathered, charismatic voice, he expressed his thoughts in a beautiful accent. He told us that his father bestowed upon him a name that means "a broken branch." The connotation of this name is that he was born to be a trouble maker. He was.

But the "trouble" he got into eventually led his country to freedom. When he was released from prison in 1990, he found himself center stage in the dramatic series of events that led him to the presidency of his people.

Mandela spoke about the importance of personal reflection in everyday life -- a subject that's always interested me... "We must find time to simply sit and think every single day," he enjoined. "We have only one chance to pass through this life... We have only one opportunity to do the things which allow us to go to bed at night proud of who we are."

The 81-year old has much to be proud of; he boasted of his 13 or 14 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Of all his accomplishments, he's the most happy about this one, he said: Bill Gates is a very rich man -- but with my family, I know I am much richer!"

But he wasn't always rich. Born in a small village, he was used to small-town life. When he moved to Johannesburg as a small boy, he recalled a thought-provoking incident. One day, he noticed a 20-year-old man walking across the street with a great deal of pomposity. He addressed an elderly gentleman who was watching the same man, saying, "Grandpaw, who is this man who crosses the road thinking that the cars will stop just to admire him?"

"This boy has read *ALL* the books in the world and has passed the matriculation." Mandela explained that the "matriculation" was the word for college entrance exams, meaning the young man had qualified to enter university. Sixty-five years ago, the man he saw on the street was certain that he knew everything. Mandela, who has received traditional and honorary degrees from more than 50 universities around the world, promised that he would never make that mistake. He cautioned the candidates for graduation against being like this young man, advising them to not see their degree as an end, but merely a beginning.

The beginning, middle and end of the speech was marked by this beautiful refrain that sums up his sincere hope that we all pause to reflect and contemplate the bigger picture:

In the still earth, music lies unheard.

In the rough model, beauty lies within.

Following the speech, the wonderful Southern University band played a tribute to the rhythms of Africa. I nearly stood up and danced, but it was a little too hot to enjoy moving around too much. Besides, I had to pause and consider all the music that might be going on unheard in my life. And I made a promise to listen more intently for it.

If I can hear those melodies -- if I can imagine the intricate beauty of the rough-hewn models around me, then I hope that I can be a great man like the unassuming 81-year old who stood before us, draped in the colors of his country. Well, I'll aim for being a good person first, then worry about the rest later. I can look to my parents for fine examples of that. They're both very good people -- their feet are more firmly grounded than mine. I tend to be more the idealist and the dreamer. And their roots go deeper than mine do.

"Visionaries have deep roots in their own country," Mandela reminded us, "but can see past the mountain!"

I hope I can see all the hidden beauty beyond my own mountains. If I remember this truly wise man's words maybe I can be the kind of man that can go to bed proud of all I've done, despite my fears to the contrary... If only I can remember his admonitions against such anxiety:

"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our worst fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

"We ask ourselves 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God, your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."


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