Friday, December 6, 2013

Profoundly good - São Paulo and South Africa

This morning I was going to write about thunderstorms and power outages--last night a minor thunderstorm knocked out power in our whole neighborhood for six hours. But it turns out that during these hours, the death of one of my heroes was announced to the world, and I missed it because we had no technology working. I read it only this morning and am still sitting here thinking about Nelson Mandela. So excuse the detour while Brazil in My Eyes goes to South Africa. Again.

Nelson Mandela entered my consciousness as a high school kid. "We are the World" was released--and I must have played that record (yes, vinyl!!) a million billion times. I would wait for the moments when Bono appeared on the MTV video (come on! I was a teenybopper!). Then "Sun City" was released, a video I will never forget, and a song that popped into my head when we drove past Sun City this past October. It isn't as well known as the We are the World song, but the video (directed by Jonathan Demme, by the way) is powerful--though the music repetitious. If you have not seen it, here it is:

When I was in college, I was part of the naive group of kids who blocked the college entrance to ask for divestiture. As all kids this age, my self-righteousness far exceeded my understanding of what it all meant. I just knew that Nelson Mandela had been in prison for almost 20 years at that point, and that the riots were about the scariest thing this Connecticut girl had ever seen. 

As any of my blog followers know, I have more recently gotten to know South Africa personally. At the World Cup, on safari, in Johannesburg and Cape Town. I don't know it well but I love it. And I love the South Africans I know--as I've said, the kids' school is the consulate choice in São Paulo and there are five kids from South Africa in the second grade. Soon to be four, as one's family is being recalled to Pretoria next week. The girl that is leaving has the single-best infectious laugh I have ever heard.

I have read several books about Mandela, including his mind-opening, incredible autobiography called A Long Walk to Freedom. His history, determination, patience and more than anything, capacity for forgiveness should leave all of us in awe. Is there another country leader who was ever as powerful for the good? I can't think of one--certainly not in my home country (okay, not in this generation anyway) and not in my adopted country.

Where does South Africa go from here? I don't believe things will spiral down into revenge now that the master of forgiveness is gone. I hope not. It is hard to believe that something called apartheid ever existed, yet of course it did. When do the scars go away? Will they ever? One of the things that has struck me in every one of my three visits to South Africa is how it is the best-kept secret of tourism. A beautiful, diverse, exciting, wonderful place with something for everyone--garden route, wine region, safari, has everything. Except, now, Nelson Mandela.

As my president said last night, "Today he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth." My deepest, heartfelt condolences, South Africa.

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