It's a dark and dangerous jungle out there, full of tangled vines hanging heavy with hidden intentions as well as gaudy displays of obvious positions. Tooth and claw are ever ready to slash and gash the unwary as well as the aware.
A man died in that jungle. Like every man, he had done good things in his life. Like every man, he had made mistakes. Unlike most, many of his deeds were publicly known. Still, he was a man, and he died. He lived, he died, a man.
"Ah, we are so lost."
"Oh, he was so good. We miss him."
"No, he was a devil. Good riddance."
"He showed us God."
"Thank God he's gone."
Seeking words, when someone dies, we cry with loud voice, "I . . . "
But I am not the one who lived the life, who suffered the blows, who struggled for sanity, who accepted the role, who fought the fight, who called the judgments, who chose the way. I am an observer, many times removed, and my vision is affected by every filter placed between him and me, every voice of interpretation or propaganda.
Who am I to say he was good or bad? Who am I to explain his place in history? Who am I to predict the future impact of his life?
And who are they, the hissing, growling beasts lurking in the shadows of greatness, hiding inaction with loud protestation or proclamation? Who are they who shine their tiny torches from under their bushels to enlighten the world about this man's light?
And what does it matter who we are?
A man lived. A man died. He was a man.
We all live and die. Are we being all we can be, shining all the light we can shine, making all the difference we can make? Why instead do we jump from hiding or pause in the clearing to see if someone else took a speck from his eye? What of our own eyes? And whether our eyes are clear or clouded, does it make them clearer to say we saw what he saw, or to say he could not see?
I tire. I see Jesus looking over the Holy City full of unholy busy-ness and nearly empty of eyes to see. Blind beggars all of us, striving for more, when we have been given all. I am not called to be Mandela, nor am I justified to judge him.
He was a man. He lived. He died.
How will I?
Thank God that in the midst of the posturing and pontificating, the canonizing and vilifying, at last I found a place of peace. One quiet voice spoke, and I heard it, and the jungle grew still, the storm calm.
"Go well, Madiba."