“ As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ~ Nelson Mandela.
Along with the sadness at the loss of a great man (although even the word great seems too small for this particular leader) comes the opportunity to reflect on his examples. Nelson Mandela inspired, led, fought, overcame, suffered, endured, and forgave. He has left many words to reflect on, but more than that, he lived a life which will continue to illuminate and inspire for generations to come.
Most of us will not make such an impact on the world, our death will sadden our immediate circle of family and friends, but there will be no news announcements and retrospectives on the TV. Yet how do we ensure that we leave a legacy? I often say I learn a lot from funerals, they provide the opportunity to reflect on your own life. What will they have to say about me? How do we live our life in such a way that we will leave a mark, something that is missed when we are no longer here.
Buddhists teach that suffering comes from attachment, attachment to things, to life, to certainty. Yet none of these are things we have any control over. So letting go of attachment is the first step to freeing yourself of suffering. Accept and embrace the uncertainty of life, and know that life is fragile. If we are lucky, we have years ahead of us. But what if we don’t? From the moment we are born our days are numbered, yet we frequently live as if we are immortal, with infinite time to do those things we are putting off. How would you change if you knew how much time you had?
The difference we can make in the world begins with the difference we can make in the lives of others. Selfish self-absorption may bring temporary pleasure, but true happiness comes in thinking and acting outside of yourself. Our actions do not have to be large and loud, sometimes the simple and soft acts of kindness can create a ripple that spreads for miles and years.
I am writing this and listening to words on the life of Mandela. How many of us would survive being imprisoned for 27 years? For years he was allowed only one visitor a year for 30 minutes; only one letter every six months. How could we maintain hope and purpose under those inhumane conditions? How does a man have the strength of mind to come out of that onto the world stage and shine a beam of forgiveness into the darkness? The commissions of Truth and Reconciliation helped to move a nation forward together, able to move beyond the atrocities and savagery that had been everyday life during the Apartheid era. How many of us hold on to the slightest injustice or act of disrespect, allowing it to poison and sicken us. The power of forgiveness and letting go is the medicine that can move you forward.
The author Robert Fulgham wrote that we don’t all need to be the light, we can also be a piece of mirror which reflects the light of others. Often we are happy to reflect negativity and anger by stoking the fires of misunderstanding. How much of a difference could we make by stopping malicious gossip, speaking well of others, instead of rushing to judgment. What is your legacy? I well remember a friend Willa, she could never say anything bad about another person. Even when that person had been unkind to her she could see something worthy of forgiveness in them.
As for my own legacy, I have often joked that I could not die until I saw my daughter have a daughter of her own. And that daughter is here, with as much attitude, spice and pepper that I could ever have wished for! But I am not ready to die! I hope to accomplish much more on this earth than contributing DNA. It certainly gives you a feeling of immortality when you look at your grandchildren, but in addition to the chromosomes, are you passing on the right attitudes, the examples of a life of purpose, of service to others?
As we reflect on the life of Madiba the man, Mandela the leader, we have the opportunity to think of our own light. Is it shining as brightly as it can? Are you supplying the fuel and nourishment to keep it burning? Are you reflecting the best of others? Are you trying to make a difference in your own corner?
This Friday morning, I hope you are living your true purpose so that if you have the opportunity to look back over a long life you can be happy with your choices. I hope you can live your legacy, creating meaningful moments that impact the lives of others, making a difference no matter how small. This is the only life we know, the only chance we have. This is not a test, not a dress rehearsal. This is it!
Have a wonderful weekend family, I hope to see a good turnout at the Coalition of Alumni walkathon tomorrow morning. And as the holidays approach, may you have enough to share, and a wealth of love and friendship.