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Can You Put Peace In Your Heart Like Nelson Mandela?
The passing of Nelson Mandela is in the news this week. He showed the world something about humanity’s ability to keep peace in our hearts that few have done very publicly in my lifetime.
But what about the rest of us? Can we also put peace in our hearts regardless of what we have been through? I believe we can and that there are many unsung heroes who have quietly done so.
That’s why I don’t write about Mandela. Yes, he did great things, but if we see him as someone who is much better than us, we also decide that we cannot do what he did. We do better to think that we have the same capacity for love, peace, forgiveness, and resilience that he so vividly demonstrated.
Maybe you are like me. Although I lived through apartheid and even had a friend who was a child in South Africa when apartheid came, I didn’t have a good understanding of what it was like to live through that time in South Africa. I recently read a book Escaping Apartheid: Letters to My MotherNomanono Isaacs for giving me the perspective I was missing. After reading this book, my understanding of Mandela’s achievements changed and my faith in the goodness of humanity increased. You might be wondering how a book about apartheid could increase my faith in the resilience of humanity. This article aims to answer this question.
My heart fully believes that this is a message that everyone will understand. Many people experience such difficult situations in their lives. How bad a situation is depends on one’s perspective. I know someone who has had more bitterness in his heart because his grandmother took his cousins to the circus without him as a child than Nomanono Isaac did in his own after living through apartheid.
I can say this not only because of her book, but also because of her actions.
Three years ago my youngest daughter and her best friend went to Manchester UK to spend the summer abroad. Having a lot of friends in London, I posted on Facebook asking if any of them would be willing to provide accommodation for them on long weekends so they could visit London. Hotels in London were too expensive for college girls. Nomanono immediately responded by offering the two girls, whom she had never met, a place to stay.
When they arrived, she provided them with a comfortable place to sleep and fed them breakfast and dinner every day. To my delight, she also made me make a few calls at her expense while they visited. I felt very grateful. It was so wonderful to know that my friend was watching over these two 19 year olds while they were so far away to explore a city of 8 million. In response to my enthusiastic thanks, she replied, “I know you would do the same for my daughter.” This is absolutely true. Her comment was not surprising to me until I read her book and realized all that she had lived through. Nomanono’s ability to count on me to respond took on much more meaning after I understood her history.
When she told me she had written a book about her childhood in South Africa, I wanted to read it because she is my friend, but I was also hesitant because I don’t like reading books that make me feel bad. After I decided to read her book. I was so pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t send me into an emotional low. Yes, terrible things happened to her and her family and many others. However, she portrays them through the lens of her loving heart, so even though we understand what she went through, it doesn’t diminish our emotional standing. In fact, knowing her loving heart made me feel wonderful when I finished the book because I saw more clearly how she, like Mandela, testifies to the human heart’s capacity to love and be renewed.
Mandela helped millions of people, so seeing his ability to forgive makes us believe that what he is capable of is beyond us. That he is somehow “superhuman” and mere mortals like us can’t reach such a forgiving and loving heart. We tend to think that he is somehow better at forgiving and more peaceful than we are. Nomanono’s book and her heart show that normal people have this ability.
Nomanono was an 11-year-old child in South Africa when apartheid came. She has written a beautiful book about the years she spent until she finally escaped persecution by leaving South Africa, becoming an exile from her homeland for 24 years. One of the reasons I think this book is so great is because I know Nomanono’s heart. Before reading her book, I knew her story, the highlights, but I didn’t fully understand the horrors she went through until I read the story. It was then that I realized that her being the way she is, full of trust and love for her fellow man (and woman) after being treated like one, is a testament to how resilient people can be and how we can each choose to let our experiences embitter us or choose instead to be a loving presence in the world.
Someone who has been mistreated often loses the ability to trust. That’s why I’m so excited about this book and think it’s such an important piece of work. It’s a true story of her experiences from the perspective of an 11-21-year-old girl and shows that going through something terrible doesn’t mean becoming upset.
In my lifetime, three very public figures who have demonstrated peaceful behavior can move things forward in ways that violence and war never will. However, recognized public figures are not the only ones who can go through horrific experiences and come out on the other side with peace in their hearts, confidence in their actions and no bitterness in their hearts.
What we become does not depend on what we experience, but on our reaction to it. Although many do not make conscious choices, the ability to do so is always available to us.
What choices have you made? What choices do you want to make? It starts with a choice. are you ready
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