Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rest in Peace Madiba

I don’t know when we’ll see a heroic spirit like Mandela’s again. I’ll always remember him as a tall, straight, elderly man with kind eyes and a broad smile. The physical description fits the man inside.

He had the ramrod posture of a warrior, which he was, but reluctant warrior who took up violence after one too many massacres of his people, and later renounced it. I like that about him – that he admitted he was wrong, that he had the courage to change and that he became a warrior of peace.

I loved his eyes. They were half-hidden in an Asiatic fold that concealed the hurts and insults he’d suffered. But the light in them revealed the depth of a man who saw the darkest part of us and still managed to find the good. “No one is born hating another ... People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

That faith must be what enabled him to smile so broadly. In that smile, I saw hope. If a man who spent 27 years unjustly imprisoned, whose spirit was forged behind iron bars and when finally released, carried the fragility of a new nation in his hands, could still give us a genuine smile, there is hope for us all.

Mandela earned his white hair and wrinkles through hardship and struggle. I like that about him too. Because even though my life is so much easier than his was, I still struggle. Knowing that someone else has gone through much worse and still made it through, points me in the right direction.

The world loved and followed Mandela because we knew he was a great man and to love him was to, in some small way, participate in his greatness. Recently, I finished writing a novel in which Mandela inspires one of the characters. I wanted to explore what makes us good. Even though I still have no firm answer, I think that part of the answer is our connection to each other. The larger the connection, the bigger the heart. Mandela was connected to the world.

In South Africa, they don’t say that Mandiba died or that he passed away. They say he transitioned. I like to think that when he transitioned, some of his spirit stayed here with us, spirit that he’d planted in our hearts. It’s up to us to keep it nourished and alive.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guerilla Art: Breaking out of the Museum

One day last fall I was rushing by the library in downtown Trinidad and out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a white object. On my way to complete yet another errand, I ignored it. Because I’m busy.
We’re all busy.
Too busy.
Three errands later, I ran across Commercial Street, hopped up to the sidewalk, then spun around. I’d almost stepped on something.
Another white object.
Human shaped.
I peered down at the sewer drain and found two paper cut outs in human form, or as their creator, Peggy Westmoreland, calls them, papels (paper people).
I stopped. 
Here was a plain white piece of paper flush with the wonder of childhood.

And then I got to thinking... maybe back at the library I should have paid attention. Then I might have known that there was something I wanted to see. I walked back to the library and sure enough, there were six papels reading and hanging out on the steps. 

I smiled. The drudgery of errands had tuned into fun.
How many other papels had I missed?
I stuffed my list into the bottom of my purse and decided to prowl the rest of downtown Trinidad. After all, who knew how long these delicate papels would last. They were vulnerable to wind and rain, wicked pigeons and clumsy feet.
I walked the streets again, slowly. 

This time I discovered not only papels but the world they and I inhabited, the rough brick of the streets, the grainy concrete sidewalks, the fire engine red of the paper box, all of which had been there, passed over unseen by me and how many others. 

But even more than that, I discovered the playful human imagination - that a lamp post can become a starting gate for a race, a cement slab become a slide, a window ledge, a place to snicker at people running around too busy to notice you. 

That day I regained my sense of wonder, which is one of the many reasons we need art as much as we need air and water. 
Thank you Peggy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Longing for Spring