By Amy Paulson (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
I remember when I first read Long Walk to Freedom, the epic autobiography of Nelson Mandela. It was 2006. I lived in a 100-year old house in Germany that had poor heating. I tried to keep warm by soaking in the bathtub every day while reading his book. If you’ve seen it, you know that this particular book is thick and heavy. You can imagine the number of times it fell into the tub by accident.
This book had been on my personal reading list for years. I’d put it off because it seemed too intimidating. But, at some point, I bucked up and decided that if Mandela could spend 27 years of his life imprisoned for fighting a system of institutional racism that was so morally wrong that in 1973 the UN declared it a crime against humanity, then the least I could do was spend a few days reading his book.
Wow. I’m so glad I did. Here’s why this man became my hero:
Mandela proved to the world that humans – even fallible humans like him – are capable of changing the world.
It may sound cliché. But, reading that book in the bathtub sparked my interest in the work I do at The Gracias Foundation today. It helped clarify what I wanted to do (the courage and the plan for how to do it would come many years later) and reminded me that I, even as one person, have something to contribute to global humanity. While doing nothing at all would be akin to accepting the status quo.
After hearing about the passing of the beloved Madiba yesterday, I felt heavy, depressed, and fearful. And then I took a deep breath and remembered that I am still alive. And what washed over me was a renewed sense of purpose, commitment, hope and gratitude... and the realization that the best way to honor his life and struggle is to continue, in my own modest way, to make a difference.