An Unexpected Trip to Madiba's Memorial
I had booked my plane ticket five months in advance.
The trip spawned out of a desire to spend a couple weeks of respite from the separation my sweetheart and I have undergone for the past two years. He is committed to his brand of service in the Peace Corps in Zambia, while I have served in my own way in Ecuador and Colombia, and now in rural Arizona with Americorps VISTA. After 10 months of each other's absence, for the second time, we were looking forward to this vacation as a chance to relax, reengage with one another, and recharge for the final stretch of our services.
As I prepare to leave, I have been reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, and it's the closest I've ever felt to the man. I've been pacing through my living room in utter anticipation of seeing Robben Island and hiking Table Mountain. I've been twiddling my thumbs behind my computer screen in the office. Then the news hit. I received phone calls and e-mails and text messages, "Have you heard? You're going to be a part of history!" and "Wow! You are going to be part of something special!"
Though my initial reaction to the news of Mandela's passing was wrought with grief, eventually an inner battle began between my weaker and stronger selves. I struggled to accept that our original trajectory of the trip would now be obsolete- because we feel deeply obligated to mourn and celebrate this hero. It would no longer consist of only long walks on the beach at sunset and innocence and ignorance; It would be a stark reminder of the struggle, and a renewal of the spirit to continue the fight for justice.
I had to cope with the fact that this "break" from civil service would be minimized. That we will be dodging traffic, holding signs in the airport to find one another, and praising in church instead of relaxing on the beach. But then I thought of Nelson and Winnie's relationship, which began after the freedom fighter in Nelson had already been birthed. I thought of how he wrote extensively of how badly he missed her, and how he wished he could have stayed snuggled up next to her, warm in their newlywed bed, but that the fight had a much stronger hold. That even when it came to matters of love, he would sacrifice. The emotions I experienced and the subsequent rationalization I conjured up humbled me in a way I had never known. Very few of us knows what it truly means to sacrifice one's own life for a cause. And for that--we understand that our greatest duty in South Africa will be to serve and honor him for what he has given his people.
I'm going to South Africa as an act of love, and I think I will find even more of it than I had anticipated.
I intend to write about my impressions of the trip here.