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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Happy Birthday, Desmond Tutu


Thanks to FranIAm, I remembered that today is Desmond Tutu's birthday.

He turned 77 years old today.

So, here's my favorite Desmond Tutu story.

One of our daughters was working at NYU Law and got me an invitation - as part of a birthday present - to a private reception for Desmond Tutu prior to his being given an award for his work chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Before the award ceremony, I got to meet Bishop Tutu and asked him about the progress of his recovery from prostate cancer. He seemed very pleased with the pastoral inquiry.

I asked him about the confluence of his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the onset of his diagnosis and treatment fro prostate cancer.

"Excuse me," I asked impertinently, "but what were you thinking? Are you crazy? Taking on cancer along with truth and reconciliation?"

We laughed and he said, "I'm not crazy, but I am obedient."

He told me that "his" president, "You know him? Nelson Mandela?"

I giggled. So did he.

He continued, "I had been diagnosed just a few weeks when my president, Nelson Mandela, asked me to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

"I said to him, "'No, no. I am the wrong person. You need someone else.'"

Tutu reported that Mandela pressed him even harder.

"But, my president," I am not fit to do this job."

"Why?" asked Mandela.

"Because," said Tutu, "I laugh too easily. I cry too easily. I am weak."

Tutu reports that Mandela looked at him and said, "My dear Desmond. This is why you are perfect for the task. If you can laugh too easily, you know about the absurdity of life. If you cry too easily, you understand about the fragility of life. And, if you understand your own weakness, you understand the power of God."

Tutu looked at me, smiled that incredible smile of me and said, "Now do you understand why I love my President?"

"Yes," I said. "Now do you understand why I love you?"

I came to understand servant leadership in a whole new way that day.

Happy Birthday, Desmond. The world is a better place for your nativity.

2 comments:

Brian R said...

A true saint and how wonderful to meet him.

FranIAm said...

Well happy to have provided the reminder as it yielded this amazing experience of yours.

He is brilliant- thanks for sharing that story.

We need more like him... laugh too easily and cry to easily. Like that.