You don’t meet a lot of people in this world who leave you with a feeling that can only be described as awe.
He was a hero to my wife Teresa. We had the honor of sitting with Mandela over the Thanksgiving holidays in 2007. I was struck by his warmth, openness and serenity. I stood in his tiny cell on Robben Island, a room with barely enough space to lie down or stand up. I learned that the glare of the white-rock quarry permanently damaged his eyesight. After spending 27 years locked away, after having his own vision impaired by the conditions, I wondered how this man rejected enmity and still managed to see so clearly the best interests of his country and even embraced the very guards who kept him prisoner.
The only explanation was that Madiba’s vision resided not in his eyes but in his conscience.
Nelson Mandela was a stranger to hate. He rejected recrimination in favor of reconciliation. He knew that the future demanded that he and his country move beyond the past. He devoted his life to healing South Africa and leading it back into the community of nations.
And he didn’t want to be remembered as a saint — he wanted to be remembered as man who made difficult decisions. Because then he could truly be not just an inspiration — but a model.
We remain in awe of Madiba’s ‘long walk to freedom’ — and now that his long walk has ended, think of how each of you might take just one step in the next mile of a journey that never really ends. If you’re looking for a moral mission, take a moment to watch this video from the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs of Maya Angelou’s moving tribute to Nelson Mandela on behalf of the American people.
About the Author: John Kerry serves as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States.
Editor’s Note: This entry also appears on The Huffington Post.
- Cross posted from DipNote, the official blog of the U.S. Department of State