How should we remember Madiba?

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Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013

It is hard to believe that South Africa, and the world, have had to go forward without the reassuring presence of Nelson Mandela for a whole year now. In remembering his life, his 27 years of sacrifice, his triumph of a free South Africa, it is also surely important to acknowledge, and live, by perhaps the greatest gift he gave humanity: his example.

Madiba’s many acts of kindness touched the hearts of young and old, black and white, friends – and even enemies. In an era of continued war, repression and violence against the vulnerable, what could be more precious or powerful? In an article shortly after his passing, a TIME magazine article 5-great-stories-about-nelson-mandelas-humility-kindness-and-courage revisited some of Madiba’s greatest acts of kindness, as related by compatriots and friends:

“He always made his own bed, no matter where we travelled. In Shanghai I tried to say to him, ‘Please don’t make your own bed, because there’s this custom here.’ And he said, ‘Call them, bring them to me.’ So I did. I asked the hotel manager to bring the ladies who would be cleaning the room, so that he could explain why he himself has to make his own bed, and that they not feel insulted. He didn’t ever want to hurt people’s feelings. He never really cared about what great big people think of him, but he did care about what small people thought of him.” Jessie Duarte

“During the 1950s my parents, who were anti-apartheid activists, knew Nelson Mandela. I remember the story he told them about the occasion he saw a white woman standing next to her broken car in Johannesburg. He approached her and offered to help. After fiddling with the engine he fixed the car. Thankful for his help, she offered to pay him sixpence. “OH no, that’s not necessary,” he said, “I am only too happy to help. “But why else would you, a black man, have done that if you did not want money?” she asked quizzically. “Because you were stranded at the side of the road,” he replied. Steve Bloom

“I was impressed mainly by the warmth and the genuine interest, which was a feature that, subsequently I discovered, is very much part of the man and something which I also must admit now, I learned from him … to give your full attention to your interlocutor, and really take notice of what people are saying, listen to them carefully. In his case, there was a spontaneous, charismatic exuding of warmth. That’s probably the most important, most vivid memory I have of our first meeting.” Neville Alexander

It was Madiba’s former private secretary, Zelda le Grange, who wrote after his passing http://www.nelsonmandela.org/news/entry/statement-by-zelda-le-grange-on-the-passing-of-nelson-mandela: “Nelson Mandela inspired people to forgive, to reconcile, to care, to be selfless, to be tolerant, to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances … His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country but particularly how we relate to one another.”

Although Madiba was perhaps the greatest figure of our time, he never forgot the small people, or the profound impact a simple act of kindness can make to a person’s sense of dignity. No one else can ever be Mandela, but we can each try to be like Mandela by simply biting back the next angry word; being patient when someone elderly and slow is in our path; giving up a bus seat; smiling at a passer-by instead of looking away; looking out for stray animals and taking them to the vet; not yelling at the next cold caller, who also needs to feed their family …or even just being a little kinder to the loved ones in our own lives. If we simply try to practice small acts of kindness, every day – maybe that is the best way to remember Madiba.
Click here for some ideas of how you can easily practice kindness today. www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas