Dear Mr. Mandela,
Though you’re no longer with us, I just thought I’d pass along my thanks along with so many others in the world to you for teaching me something so critically important: the power of forgiveness. Though you could have led your Zulu tribesmen in an all-out bloodbath against the white proponents and leaders of that inexcusably racist system of government called apartheid, you chose to follow the path of forgiveness toward your former persecutors and captors, and set the stage for the healing of your nation.
You did this when revenge could have been so very easy, and so sweet, considering the torture and abuse you suffered at the hands of the white dictatorship in Pretoria. But you could see that South Africa had suffered enough bloodshed, violence, and hatred, and you showed true Christian virtue that the Dutch Reformed Church failed dismally to show when it encouraged the establishment of apartheid.
My problem is, I’m a proud white man who is a very slow learner when it comes to forgiveness. I’m thin-skinned and easily riled at times by people who make insinuations about my character, morals, or even my masculinity. Looking at how you endured 27 years of unjust incarceration for standing up for the dignity and rights of all people regardless of race, only to forgive your enemies, makes me hang my head in shame over the many times I wanted to see vengeance on people who mistreated me, even for little, silly things.
I only wish I could have known you personally, Mr. Mandela. I believe you could have imparted some added wisdom to me in learning how to forgive some of the worst things people can throw at you, and move on then to give of yourself in service to some of the same people with dignity, mercy, and compassion. Your example has inspired this little white man on this side of the Atlantic to find ways to extend God’s mercy and grace to others, including those who mock me or who intend to do me harm. I don’t know if there is any greater lesson that anyone can learn in this life than the power of forgiveness. You not only learned it, Mr. Mandela, you became one of the world’s greatest teachers of the virtue.
Brian W. Smith