Friday, January 1, 2010
After Christmas, on the eve of the new year I went to see the film, "Invictus." I came away from the movie moved by the towering presence of Nelson Mandela. Mandela grew up in the segregation of South Africa. He fought it all his life.
He was arrested countless times for his role in trying to end apartheid. He made this statement before he was convicted to five years imprisonment:
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is am ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
He did not die for those ideals but was incarcerated by his government to life imprisonment. He was finally released February 11, 1990 after spending twenty-seven years in prison. He continued to work for equality for all South Africans after his release. He was inaugurated as the first democratically elected State President of South Africa in May of 1994.
The movie, directed by Clint Eastwood begins with his election. Needless to say, many white citizens of South Africa were furious at his election. He refused to be heavy-handed with the white population. He knew that unless the country could unite regardless of their color, nothing would be gained. And so the movie focuses on his dream of bringing his people together through the universal language of sport. Most of Mandela's black leaders thought he was crazy to support the mostly white Rugby team. How could this man who had been imprisoned by his white oppressors for so long not retaliate? But he refused. He responded, again and again: "We must let the past go...we must forgive all the terrible things that have happened to us and move onl" When so many black South Africans would root for any team but their country's their new President campaigned to bring the World Cup to South Africa in 1995.
In the film he challenged the suspicious National Rugby Team's Captain Francoise Piennar to lead his team to win the World Cup. The movie's title, "Invictus" comes from a poem by William Ernest Henley which means: "unconquered." I came away from the movie feeling that the conquererors are those who can forgive. I recommend this movie to everyone.
I couldn't help but think of President Obama as the movie unfolded. So many have wondered why he has not been harder on his opponents and some of the difficult world leaders he has met. I have been impressed by the way he has moved from crisis to crisis. Maybe for Mandela and our President and for us all is to find our conquering by "forgetting all those things that lie behind and press on to what lies ahead..." Not a bad way to start a new year.
(Probably no greater symbol do we have of forgiveness than Coventry Cathedral. When the bombs destroyed this Church and many of the citizens of the town, they rebuilt the Cathedral and left the charred remains so all could see. The above photo is taken from the altar which stands in the bombed out building between the old and new church.)