Strangely, all day yesterday, as America celebrated 237 years of freedom, I couldn't help but think about Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for 27 years by a racist government, Mandela's only sin was speaking out for racial equality.
What's more remarkable is that Mandela strode out of a South African prison, already an old man, and yet he threw away all the bitterness, all the painful realizations that the best part of his life was spent in a cold prison cell, and got on with the business of freeing his people from oppression.
I dare you to look at any picture of Mandela and not see the utter inner peace that is reflected from his face and eyes. If you were to choose someone to emulate, if you choose your heroes selectively, you'd do worse than pick this man to emulate.
I can still recall the day Mandela was released from prison. As he emerged from that darkness he strode through an adoring crowd under bright sunshine and clear blue skies. As I watched him I mourned all those lost years...the years of prime health and strength, and felt bad that he would surely just go home and die in peace.
But Nelson Mandela was not finished with his life, and God wasn't finished with him either. This old man continued his quest for Black equality and would miraculously be elected President of a nation that had offered him nothing but pain and suffering.
Now Nelson Mandela is well into his 90's. His family reports that he's on life support and not expected to live much longer. Those that admire and love him are torn between wanting him to linger a bit longer and wishing him God speed on his journey to a better place.
These days we tend to assign "hero" status far too easily. We anoint sainthood to those who can speak the pretty words and attract adoring crowds. Nelson Mandela has proven by his actions and his words that he is deserving. He returned with love those who inflicted pain and hate. The purity of his heart, and his life mission, burned away the hate and transformed it into love and admiration.
God bless Nelson Mandela.