Throughout history, God has staged particular men and women with particular gifts – particular greatness – in particular places at particular times to carry out particular parts of his unfolding plans for humanity. Nelson Mandela was such a man. And so this week I am deeply grateful for the life of Madiba (gift no. 1931).
And like people across the globe, I’m recalling my Madiba Moment (gift no. 1932).
It was 2008. I was teaching at St Alban’s College and I was very pregnant. My friend Shane Kidwell, then Deputy Headmaster, came into my office one morning and said, ‘You still fine to do Chapel next week?’ I said, ‘Ja, for sure. Why?’ He said, ‘The Great Man will be here. With Graca Machel.’ Andile Mandela was in Form 1 (Grade 8) that year, and his grandfather had been promising a visit. Okie dokie. Mandela. My Chapel slot.
I don’t remember what my talk was about. I only remember that at some point the boys had to check under their pews and some of them found Inside Story chocolates. Which made some or other significant spiritual point. I also remember being aware of the golf cart that carried Madiba in and out of the Chapel – even then he was frail – and the bodyguards and the grace of Graca and the still, serene presence of a global icon a metre from the pulpit.
After the service the dignitaries visited Ochse House – Andile’s boarding house – and because I was an Ochse tutor I got to be there. To meet Mandela. I remember thinking, ‘This is too surreal,’ when my boss or my housemaster – I can’t recall – introduced me and said I was expecting my first child and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela grinned and quipped, ‘Is it twins?’ I laughed – shook my head – shook his hand and it was old and smooth and papery – this hand that had touched in greeting the leaders of superpowers and the sweepers of streets – and I thought how he was just a man that lived and breathed – not a god – but how very different life might have looked in this nation struggling from darkness into light if God had not positioned Mandela when and how he did.
Like, freakin’ wow.
Madiba said, ‘There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.’ That’s been part of my motivation to make 2013 a year of thanksgiving, so I’m determined to carry on counting the gifts for just a couple weeks more.
1933 Cam – calm and philosophical at the end of a day that filled up with unexpected errands: ‘Today was not as wide open as I’d hoped.’
1934 Scott putting on seven pairs of undies and running down the passage – yelling jubilant – ‘I’m a snowman!’
1935 Coral, Thea and I taking our kids to a preschool in Mamelodi on Monday morning where the teachers earn R350 a month (about $34) and are so, so grateful
1936 Women of integrity who put the desperate needs of children above their own
1937 Pockets of hope for education in South Africa
1938 Suddenly remembering some Zulu and the massive smiles it earned me from kids struggling to open their party packs
1939 Our kids’ simple generosity – giving away some of their own toys, books and clothes – within a context they don’t fully understand
1940 Successful dentist appointment for the boys – much spraying of water and sucking of spit and up-and-down rides on the fancy chair and general hilarity
1941 Data for my iPad
1942 Holiday swims at my folks
1943 Advent calendar daily eagerness
1944 Annabelle crawling down our passage to find the big cousins
1945 Murray reminding me not to look for a fight every time I go into Builders Warehouse
1946 Our guestroom renovated and ready for peeps to come and stay
1947 Baking with Cam, whose mixing enthusiasm makes up for actual skill
1948 Being the princess in Scott’s game and helping him fight bad guys
1949 Getting choked up over Cam’s report and the wonderful things his teachers say
1950 Posting a Christmas card – feeling all old-school and Thomas-Kinkade-ish
1951 Driving the builders home to Mamelodi and how they loved hearing Cam and Scott sing Joy to the world
1952 Getting the last item of Cam’s school uniform – tick!
1953 4th December – married for nine years
1954 Jamie Oliver anniversary-dinner cooking with Murray
1955 Kitchen tea cutting and sticking and planning and icing with Samantha and Linda
1956 Heather’s kitchen tea – Jane Austen style – pink roses – fine bone china – Pride and Prejudice soundtrack – fresh flowers twisted into the bride-to-be’s hair – absolutely perfect
1957 Words like, ‘Marry me, my wonderful, darling friend,’ from Emma’s Mr Knightley
1958 Heather’s total surprise
1959 Heather’s boundless happiness
1960 Laughing about psychedelic pink icing –
1961 And collapsing laughing trying to move our massive study work table into the dining room and back again
1962 Christmas shopping and wrapping done
1963 Coffee in the freezing rain with Nats, Kirst and Jo while the kids ran hot and wild and oblivious
1964 My brave, brave friend Jo: gung-ho – strong – ready to lead or follow as God directs her – precious gentle mom – faithful wife – friend – adventurer
1965 Obama saying of Mandela, ‘He took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.’
1966 Thinking I’d lost my phone and finding it full-circle: home on the kitchen table
1967 Scott: ‘Mom you not the boss of me! You my fairy princess!’ (Where do you go from that? Smack? Hug?)
1968 Saturday night away at The Highlander in Dullstroom
1969 Walking to dinner at a coffee roastery –
1970 And tasting trout –
1971 And staying ‘til we were the only people left –
1972 And walking back in thick dark mist that sounded like frogs and tranquillity
1973 Berry compôte with breakfast –
1974 And Murray saying what he loves about me most –
1975 And realising how in marriage you see each other’s finest moments – in service and loving sacrifice the world will never know about
1976 Ancient railway lines and coal trains and stuck-away places with names like Driehoek and Tuisbly
1977 The rightness of driving through a countryside of cows and hay bales and flags flying half-mast