About Mandela, it seems that nothing can be said here, which has not already been said by others. Only silence and reflection seem most appropriate. Any life that spans 95 years deserves at least this much. Even more so then the incomparable presence whose passing the world now mourns. The following portrait put together by Charlayne Hunter-Gault on the PBS News Hour provides a historical context for Mandela's life. It is particularly gratifying that Charlayne, a victim of American apartheid who became the first African-American woman to attend the University of Georgia, is the one telling the story here. She is herself a symbol of the universal struggle for freedom, though perhaps many by now have no idea what she went through in order to become the renowned journalist whose coverage of South Africa and other noteworthy events has kept us informed and enlightened over the years.
As I look at this clip and reflect on the universal outpouring of grief and love on the occasion of Mandela's passing, I am reminded that the man who went into prison for advocating violent opposition to apartheid was not the same man who left it many years later. A transformation occurred that bears some resemblance to Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces. This man's ego died so that the universal hero might inhabit him. His great accomplishments would not have been possible had that important spiritual event not occurred.
As we give thanks for Mandela's life, it seems a good idea to avoid "sacralization" of his identity, that process by which we put off this transformative process in ourselves by saying, "Oh, well of course he did it. He was Mandela. He was different." As Gandhi often pointed out, "I am just an average man. Anyone can do what I have done." Let us take this lesson with us as we move into our daily lives - adding to the love in the world and never, ever subtracting from it.
In the video clip below, you will see an old man with white hair sit down at the piano and play the renowned hit known as “Take Five.” The piece was composed by his lifelong friend and musical colleague, Paul Desmond, who died in 1977. The white-haired gentleman is Dave Brubeck (born this day in 1920) as he looked in 2007 at the age of 87. Listen to the piano solo in the song’s opening. Everything that can be said about Brubeck’s deep feeling for music, and for his friend, and for the great gifts their collaboration produced can be heard in this solo. For some reason, the microphone was not turned on for the saxophone during this performance, which seems annoying until you realize how appropriate it is. After Brubeck’s musical statement, there can only be Desmond’s response. Without the mike, the saxophone solo seems to come from a long way off, as far back as 1977 and beyond. If you know the piece, you can hear that saxophone the way Beethoven heard the late symphonies – in your heart and in your soul. But we are sentient beings, after all. Which is why I have included an audio version of the complete piece immediately following.
Born this day in 1898, this man's ability to sum up an entire history in a single, candid moment is unmatched. If you can spare nine minutes and fifty-six seconds, the following clip provides a nice introduction and/or reflection on his life and work. His camera of choice - the Leica. Ain't it great?