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Celebrating Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

A lot happened last night. I don’t have cable, but I have whatever helps my television pick up network tv. I watched the news coverage of the death of Mandela, “The Sound of Music,” and “Scandal.” I’m still exhausted from all the drama, real and fictional.

I won’t remember that episode of “Scandal,” and hopefully I won’t remember that version of “The Sound of Music,” but I expect I will remember the death of Mandela just like I remember the deaths of Nixon and Princess Diana, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the events at Tiananmen Square, or the end of apartheid in South Africa. I’m not particularly close to Mandela. We never met. I never really studied him. I was in South Africa once. I, like everyone else, read “Long Walk to Freedom.” He was old, and I expected he would die just like the rest of us will.

I was most struck by the news reports of the South Africans gathered outside of Mandela’s home. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, interviewed by Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, who told us that in South Africa, the people speak of transition, not of death and dying.

How Christian, I thought.

I might be wrong. Perhaps that is not necessarily or exclusively Christian, but it felt as though that is what we do. Death might feel so final. As Christians, we may still feel doubt about what lies beyond this life as we know it, but we get to think of death as merely a transition. Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch write in their book The Good Funeral that in the process of death and its attending rituals, “we are carrying a loved one to the edge of mystery, and people should be encouraged to stick around to the end” (p. 183).

I wonder if the U.S. news cycle will stick around to the end. Probably not. But I know most of us who have a sense of the great legacy left by Mandela will.


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