One night, I found myself intrigued by an online excerpt of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom. I ordered and read the book, skipped some pages and stowed it away, only to spot it recently, a bit dusty but beckoning me to pick it up again.
Time spent on a bookshelf had left the book a little worn. I wasn’t in a hurry as I moved from sentence to sentence. This time, I decided to savour the contents at a gentler pace. To my surprise, some portions of the book now had new meaning; reading about Mandela’s childhood made me think more deeply of my own.
Long Walk To Freedom is a first person account of how a boy, born innocent, a mischievous troublemaker at times, grew up to become a legend by virtue of his longstanding struggle against apartheid – that vile, loathsome system which throws people into jail for nonsensical reasons: It is a crime for a mother to walk down a street holding her child’s hand just because they look like they belong to different races or because her nose is sharper than his; if you’re a person of colour and doesn’t carry an ID showing your “inferior” status, you’ll be arrested, too.
Apartheid is a crime against humanity; racial tensions and violence rule. Never mind that we all came from the same ancestors, Adam and Hawa (Eve).
Reading such a book is an eye-opener. We might have heard of the atrocities of related gross injustices in news reports, but seeing these through the eyes of a freedom fighter is way more profound. Autobiographies, I find, are more appealing than biographies for the simple reason that autobiographies are replete with the authentic inner voice of the person himself.
As I reread this revealing book, I pondered on the many daily struggles that we face today in different parts of the globe: inequality, cruelty, persecution of certain ethnic groups. It would seem that apartheid still has mankind in its grip. Yet, despite the grimness of today, this book left me feeling hopeful. Give it our best shot within our family and our community to be accountable, responsible, to treat people with respect and dignity. Our children watch what we do, and God willing, by being our best, we shall leave a legacy for them to follow and be proud of.
Change within occurs very slowly.
With persistent acts of kindness, that annoying neighbour could turn into the friendliest, most caring person over two decades. The troubled child you knew at seventeen might take a turn for the better in the next ten years, perhaps through experiences you never envisaged. Even at the age of twenty, Mandela did not see himself as politicised yet, but was pushed, shoved and kicked into a system that forced him to taste the ultimate bitterness of discrimination. Who would have imagined he was to become one of the world’s heroes? For parents, in particular, our expectations might work against us. We learn about how boys and girls begin to chart their own identities in adolescence, how habits are likely to form in teenagehood. It makes us worry if we have done a good job.
Each of us has our struggles, our own mountains to conquer. It could be personal e.g. overcoming an addiction or bad habits; or professional in nature e.g. trapped in a job we hate, yet unable to find another. But who knows? With a little bit more resolve everyday, your long walk to freedom might be over sooner than you think.
What books have you read, of late? As an author, I’m happy when someone buys my books. Nevertheless, I’m aware that some of my books will do little more than grace the buyers’ homes, adding colour and character to bookshelves. People get excited on meeting an author and getting the books they purchase autographed. The not-so-exciting bit is the uncertainty of whether the books will be read, the lessons manifested to benefit readers. No matter who you are, work harder to inculcate the reading habit in your family. As Mark Twain said,”A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t.”
Note: This instalment of the Gift Of Kindness column was published on page 15 (see below) of the April 2017 edition of AlWasat, a bilingual (Arabic & English) Australian newspaper based in Melbourne. Read it online here.