I was there, among the thousands that had gathered upon the lush green lawns of QueensPark to catch a glimpse of Nelson Mandela, newly released from his South African prison cell and here in Toronto for the first time. I had asked to leave work early that day so that I could experience what I knew to be a momentous occasion. Not just in a global sense but something far more personal. I wanted to see in person, this man, Mandela. A man who had endured some of the worst racism and discrimination imaginable, on a scale that made my own negative experiences around my race and colour seem small and insignificant. Yet he was able to transcend anger, hatred and resentment, in a way I had yet to achieve, to come to a place of forgiveness, to reach out to his oppressors, clasp their hand in friendship and unity and offer a new path, a new way of seeing the future. A future for the country he loved and a world that had yet to believe in him. And I climbed the tree I stood beneath, just so that I could see his face, less than one hundred meters away, to see if he truly could leave his bitterness behind. Because if he could, maybe, so could I.
I wish I could say that day changed me. That it melted away my own anger, hatred and resentment. But it didn’t. At the age of 23, my immaturity kept my heart bound. It is only now, 20 years later, that his words have taken a hold within me. “There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” The world has lost a good and noble man. Sleep well, Madiba, you deserve this rest.