“One of the most difficult things is not to change society — but to change yourself,”

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela smiling.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

With the passing of Nelson Mandela, I am struck with the reality that his actions mattered. His life mattered.  My head flooded with thought, I recognize that some people touch our lives in ways we rarely identify.  His self sacrifice always left me awestruck and I contemplate whether or not I have what it takes to combat injustice.  His actions humble me and cause me to take a bold look in the mirror. I live in a tower of comfort, rarely experiencing hunger, discomfort, or pain. Must one experience these things to make a difference?

I scan my life choices for evidence of a life that is dedicated, at least in part, to service.  There are some promising signs, but they pale in comparison to Nelson Mandela’s actions.  But there may still be time; I have much more living to do. As I ponder this, I recognize that his passing- as well as his life- has served as inspiration.  I have the opportunity to recognize this as an opportunity to make a commitment to live a life that matters, filled with actions that matter. I hope others are inspired to do the same.

Here are some highlights of Nelson Mandela’s life:

  • April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first elections open to citizens of every race. His African National Congress party swept to power with 63% of the vote. F.W. de Klerk’s National Party got 20% and the Inkatha party netted 10%. In his victory speech, Mandela said: “Now is the time for celebration, for South Africans to join together to celebrate the birth of democracy. I raise a glass to you all for working so hard to achieve what can only be called a small miracle.”  He introduced housing, education and economic development initiatives designed to improve the living standards of blacks.
  • Mandela worked to broker peace in neighboring African nations, including Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • He was involved in restoring order in Lesotho after its May 1998 elections triggered severe unrest, sending in South African troops who stabilized the situation and created a favorable climate for negotiations.
  • Mandela led the call for sanctions against Nigeria following the 1995 execution of writer and activist Ken Saro Wiwa and a number of other political prisoners.
  • And he played a leading role in resolving the impasse between the United States, the United Kingdom and Libya over securing the surrender of the two men charged in the Lockerbie bombing.
  • In September 1998, he was awarded at a ceremony in Washington the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, becoming the first African to receive the honor.