Redeeming the Past

I am a New Zealand-born South African.  When I first arrived in South Africa in 1973, Nelson Mandela had already been in prison for years and was portrayed in the media as a dangerous terrorist – so dangerous that we could not read anything he had ever said and his photo could not be published. On home leave in 1975, I went to the public library to borrow “No Easy Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. How shocked I was to find out that the dangerous terrorist was a revolutionary who was fighting not just for black people but also for white people. He understood not only black hopes but also white fears. Nelson Mandela and later Oliver Tambo were to become my lifetime heroes so that I would say: the struggle is also my life.

3 months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, my hands were blown off by a letter bomb hidden inside two religious magazines.  My years in the struggle, and the examples of Mandela, Tambo and also Trevor Huddleston had prepared me for the possibility of death although not for permanent major   physical   disability.  Nevertheless, I could make sense of my loss even as I grieved and felt the pain.  Like Mandela, how people responded to my bombing meant that my story was acknowledged, reverenced and recognized.  I was prayed for, loved and supported.

In the countless tributes crossing the world in recent weeks, so many people have said that in their     encounters with Tata Madiba, they felt acknowledged and special.  In my own small way, inspired by Mandela and so many other heroic women and men, I try to make all people I meet, feel special and of great value.

More than that, like Madiba, I surrounded myself with a collective and we created together an Institute for Healing of Memories.  Greatly encouraged by Mandela’s leadership in creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we seek to create safe and sacred spaces where healing happens – because people feel acknowledged, reverenced and recognised.

How wonderful that we and people all over the world, especially our young people, are listening to and reading the words of Nelson Mandela inviting us to embody and exude peace, healing and reconciliation.

I don’t believe that Nelson Mandela will rest in peace if we keep naming things after him.  I am sure he will rest peacefully if we live out our lives in the pursuit of a gentler, kinder, more just and therefore more peaceful world inspired by his example.

All people have a story to tell.  Every story needs a listener.  The story of Nelson Mandela has been     acknowledged, reverenced and recognized by people all over the world.  What about your story?  Have you had an opportunity to tell your story in a safe and sacred space and to be listened to?  A healing of memories workshop provides such an opportunity.

Fr Lapsley is Director of the Institute for Healing of Memories. Fr Lapsley’s workshop, ‘Healing of Memories’ will be at St Benedict’s Retreat House, Rosettenville,      Johannesburg on 4-6 February 2014. Contact 082 084 9128 to book.

Fr Michael Lapsley SSM
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