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A hope note

Some of us bear awful, invisible scars. I think of convicts who were on Death Row for many years before DNA proved them innocent and freed them. I think of little innocent children who were sexually abused by a relative or clergy. And I think of bereaved parents. How they manage to soldier on, critically wounded for life, I do not know. But I think what Nelson Mandela says about his experience may hold the key.
In his autobiography, Bill Clinton tells of visiting Nelson Mandela at the rock quarry on Robben Island where Mandela spent most of his 27 years breaking rock as a political prisoner. At one point in the tour, Clinton asked him: ‘I know you did a great thing in inviting your jailers to your inauguration [as president of South Africa], but didn’t you really hate them?’
Mandela answered: ‘Of course I did, for many years. They took the best years of my life. They abused me physically and mentally. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. Then one day when I was working in the quarry, hammering the rocks, I realized that they had already taken everything from me except my mind and my heart. Those they could not take without my permission. I decided not to give them away.’
Clinton had a follow-up question: ‘When you were walking out of prison for the last time, didn’t you feel the hatred rise up in you again?’
‘Yes,’ Mandela said, ‘for a moment I did. Then I thought to myself, ‘They have had me for 27 years. If I keep hating them, they will still have me.’ I wanted to be free, so I let it go.’
The bad news is that muddling through loss and grief is nothing short of terrible. Mandela said it took him years. The good news is that it beats the alternative — giving resentment and bitterness, self-pity and rage, permission to have their way with us.