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Sabrina Tavernise – A Story with heart

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a story with heart — what other kind is there? — beautifully written, too ]
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Sabrina Tavernise has a wonderful, heart-felt story in the NYT today, titled The Two Americans: Abraham never fit in. Hisham finally felt at home. Then their worlds collided in western Arkansas. I’d have pointed you to it anyway — it’s deeply moving — but this parallelism observed really struck me:

The mosque’s phone started ringing, and didn’t stop. Churches called. A synagogue called. Buddhists called. So did residents who had seen the news or simply driven by. One man called, crying. His daughter had seen the graffiti on her way to work and told him about it. He said the vandals could not have been Christians. No true Christian would have done it.

Anas Bensalah, a mosque member who had taken the day off to help with the cleanup, told the man that he understood completely: That was exactly how he felt every time there was an attack by the Islamic State.

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I’m collecting tales of forgiveness — not exactly miraculous forgiveness, but forgiveness where one might not necessarily expect it. Mandela-style forgiveness.

In its mild way, this is one such tale. Recommended: The Two Americans

Sunday surprise 2: the Robben Island Bible

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — believing great scripture and great poetry have much in common ]
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In what must be the most glorious mix-up of scriptures ever, this volume of Shakespeare‘s works:

Shakespeare Robben Island

was smuggled into the prison on Robben Island, S Africa, where Nelson Mandela and others were incarcerated, by Mandela’s fellow-prisoner Sonny Venkatrathnam, who invited other prisoners to sign it next to the passages that meant the most to them.

Shakespeare-Robben-Island-008

Mandela’s signature is next to the passage in Julius Caesar, Act II scene ii, beginning:

Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant never taste of death but once.

Featuring Krishna with his beguiling flute on its spine, the book has become known as the Robben Island Bible.

Consider: this book inspired the man who brought an end to apartheid. How important would you say literature can be in the development of leaders of moral stature?

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Image sources:

  • Jonathan Bate, Ten books that changed the world
  • Mark Brown, British Museum Shakespeare exhibition to include prized Robben Island copy
  • Mandela – countless silken ties of love and thought

    Friday, December 6th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — mostly written as news came from the hospital that his condition had turned critical, updated and posted now that his death has been announced ]
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    Already I am feeling the presentiment of grief, and so much of what I feel stems from this picture:

    **

    Nelson Mandela is dear to me not so much as the great first President of the new South Africa, nor as the statesman he doubtless was, but the man who loved my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston, so much.

    So it is not global with me, it is personal, and as news of his health reaches the critical mark and his family gathers in deep concern, I sense my own potential for grief rolling in over the near hills.

    Robert Frost, in his great poem A Silken Tent, speaks of “silken ties of love and thought” that bind us one to another, indeed to “every thing on earth the compass round” — in my case it is his love of Trevor that binds me to the man — and the little detail in Mandela’s autobiography where he recalls Trevor addressing a group of South African police who were approaching to arrest him, saying:

    No, you must arrest me instead, my dears.

    It’s that “my dears” that I can hear so easily in Trevor’s voice, and that Mandela was so brilliant to catch, recall and tell…

    Less personally it is the Isitwalandwe, the signal honor these two men shared, for each was “one who wears the plumes of the rare bird”.

    **

    I respect also the insurgent Mandela, who emerged from his long imprisonment with calm and clarity — Mandela the meditator if you will. This passage from a letter he wrote in jail in 1975 moves me, as Merton moves me:

    Incidentally, you may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these. But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundations of one’s spiritual life. Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. At least if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be very fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.

    Here, I believe, is the secret which gave us this man.

    **

    And because it is so very beautiful, I offer you also Frost’s poem:

    The Silken Tent
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    She is as in a field a silken tent
    At midday when the sunny summer breeze
    Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
    So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
    And its supporting central cedar pole,
    That is its pinnacle to heavenward
    And signifies the sureness of the soul,
    Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
    But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
    By countless silken ties of love and thought
    To every thing on earth the compass round,
    And only by one’s going slightly taut
    In the capriciousness of summer air
    Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.

    **

    Update:

    Mandela’s death has been announced, and I feel as though I knew it already, back in those days at the end of June when he was hospitalized, when every day and each breath might have been his last. I feel little grief now, I wish him peace — but more than that, I feel gratitude. Nelson Mandela showed us, through foul weather and fair, what a human with integrity is, and what such a single human, in the companionship of others, can do.

    So many of us must be feeling this gratitude today. Mandela has gone from among the living, to exert his influence now — his person, his strength, his story — in the ever-opening realm of inspiration and human possibility.

    Religions in the speech of Malala Yousafzai

    Saturday, July 13th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a speech worth close attention ]
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    I bypassed several opportunities to hear or read Malala‘s speech today, until Shivam Vij tweeted that she had mentioned Badshah Khan. That caught my attention — Khan is not the most well-known of figures, but he’s one that I admire — and when I watched Malala’s speech, I found him in some pretty significant company:

    I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

    That’s really quite a paragraph. And if the lives and thoughts of Gandhi or Mother Theresa, Mandela or Martin Luther King, Buddha, Christ or Muhammad seem important to you, and you are unaware of Bacha or Badshah Khan, I can recommend to you Eknath Easwaran‘s Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match His Mountains.

    In these times of religious conflict too, it is worth noting that this young Muslim woman speaks, on her sixteenth birthday and before the UN General Assembly, of the inspiration she has received not only from fellow Muslims — from the Prophet of her own faith, Muhammad, from the Father of her Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and from Benazir Bhutto, whom she terms shahid or martyr — but also from Buddha, Christ, and Gandhi, a Hindu.

    **

    As my regular readers know, I make a habit of noting patterns where I can find them, so I was struck by one rhetorical trope in particular within Malala’s speech:

    Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.

    The relationship is a subtle one: darkness is juxtaposed to light not as silence is to voice but as being silenced is — while in the third clause, pens and books is to guns as darkness is to light, a powerful and thought-provoking juxtaposition.

    **

    Malala’s speech, full text:

    Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons

    Malala’s speech in video:


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