|Photo credit: www.brazilafrica.com|
Yesterday, I decided that I had to sign the condolence book for Nelson Mandela. In the middle of a massive heatwave, terrible traffic and a to-do list that spans two pages, I had to go to Avenida Paulista and the South Africa consulate.
Why is it important to me? Because I have no other way of expressing how important Nelson Mandela's life was to me and how I try to think differently because of who he was. A man who could forgive 27 years of imprisonment in order to avoid a certain civil war. A man who said that revenge would not help the country, and that black and white must work together.
Personally I think we can all learn lessons from him. Acceptance, forgiveness, color-blindness, hope. Politicians can learn, parents can learn, everyone can learn. Last night I read the children's version of A Long Walk to Freedom to one of my kids, and I realized with happiness that the idea of separation by color was confusing and bizarre to him. As I've said, he's in classes with South Africans every day. He sees color but only as a descriptor, not as a classifier.
I took the metro from Vila Madalena to Avenida Paulista. I popped up from the underground in front of the MASP art museum and its accompanying hippie jewelry sellers and their accompanying Military Police watchmen. I strolled towards the enormous Christmas decorations where I imagined Santa sweating it out in his big red suit, and into a non-descript office building which houses the South Africa consulate as well as Switzerland's (I know this only because I ran into the consul-general at a party).
In the lobby, a small sign, candle and photo announce that the condolences book is up on the 12th floor. As I stood there, a group came by and looked at it and exclaimed "wow, the South Africa consulate is here?" No concrete barriers, US style.
A quick security check (NOTHING like the US consulate where I swear they would cavity search if they could, and forget taking your phone in) and the ancient elevator swept me up to the 12th floor.
It was a quiet place. I rang the bell and was let in to the reception area where a young man was inquiring about whether or not he needed a visa to visit South Africa. The receptionist seemed confused about my visit and asked which embassy I represented. And I said "none" and he said "just a minute." I mentioned that a friend of mine had told me about the book, and that this friend happened to be married to one of the South Africa consulate employees. And this employee came to the door, very friendly and asked if I would like to sign the diplomatic book (there is a separate one) and I said no, I would sign the book of the common man.
So I opened the condolences book and I was shocked to see that there was only one letter there. One. Written by a Brazilian on December 6. Folks, this is Nelson Mandela, quite possibly the most loved politician to ever walk the earth. I was surprised. I had been fearing a line at the signing--one that would delay my return to my to-do list. No worries. I just hope some more people show up.
As I was writing, the consul-general came out to say hello. I admit that I know her, not only because our kids are in the same class, but because I am a regular at South Africa events. She gave me two kisses and thanked me for coming. We chatted a bit then I got back to my letter as she had to ring to get someone to let her back into the inner offices. Makes me laugh when I think about how the poor consul-general of the US has to live compared to this-- drivers, security guards, planning.
So I sat and I told Mr. Mandela that I learned more about forgiveness and love from him than any other leader of people. And I told him that it was time to rest, and I admit that I even quoted my favorite Lord Byron poem. Sure hope Lord Byron didn't pillage Africa two hundred years ago or something--forgot to do my research on that.
Then I closed the book and put down my pen. I buzzed myself out of the South Africa consulate, took the elevator down, and walked out into the hot sunshine.
For the sword outwears its sheath
And the soul wears out the breast
And the heart must pause to breathe
And love itself have rest