My heroes when I was a child growing up in Grimes County, Texas were always the cowboys in old western movies I watched on Saturday mornings with my daddy. They were men who settled their differences with guns but fired only at the bad guys who were easily identifiable as thieves, cattle rustlers, or other desperadoes out to do wrongs to innocent ranchers or townspeople. The bad guys were often found drinking whiskey in saloons in the company of women with loose morals – women that sometimes turned out to be damsels in distress. The cowboys rescued damsels in distress whenever they spotted one and fought to bring justice to the lawless frontier that was the American West.
As I aged, my heroes have changed, but the people I most admire are still the ones who try to lift my vision toward higher ground, and by higher ground I mean a place where justice and equality reign in tandem against the forces of unfairness and dishonesty and outright evil.
My cowboys have been replaced by men and women who choose to settle their differences with words that effect change as powerfully as the guns of the Wild West. They are people whose examples give us hope of rescue when we find ourselves in the saloons we make of our lives.
Nelson Mandela was such a hero to me, a man whose extraordinary personal sacrifice changed the hearts of his own nation and inspired dreams for peace and fairness around the world.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Twenty-seven years of his life unfairly imprisoned, and this man speaks of love. Twenty-seven years of a life without personal freedom, and this man becomes a symbol of freedom for his nation and the rest of the world. Twenty-seven years of his life taken away, and this man gives…and gives…and gives until he dies.
For me, Nelson Mandela was as brave as any cowboy I watched in the Saturday morning westerns of my childhood. He didn’t have to ride a horse or shoot a gun to save a damsel in distress. Rather, he showed me the power of peace in the midst of turmoil and hope for unity in a world divided artificially by the hate we’ve learned to love.
I will miss knowing he is here.