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Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson and Desmond


I suppose there aren't too many Anglicans who can talk about Nelson Mandela without also talking about Desmond Tutu.

I suspect that Nelson and Desmond stories abound.

Here's mine.

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 from 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. Maybe they are the same?"

He has such a delightful giggle, you know?

He told me a story about "his" president, "You know him? Nelson Mandela?"


This time, I giggled. He couldn't resist and giggled delightfully, too.

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 (Truth). If you cry too easily, you understand about the fragility of life (Reconciliation). And, if you understand your own weakness, you understand the power of God."

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

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

He giggled again and gently held my face in his hands.

I couldn't resist. I gently held his face in mine as we looked deeply into each other's eyes.

It was a moment I will never forget.

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

"I laugh too easily. I cry too easily. I am weak."

Thank you, Mr. President, for being a servant leader to those who strive to be servant leaders.

You have taught us well.

May we learn from your lessons. 

6 comments:

Susan Pederson said...

Such a lovely memory, thank you for sharing!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Susan. I am blessed every time I remember it.

Beth Fleisher said...

A very special encounter, indeed. Thank you so much for sharing such a fine story. And the giggles!! :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The giggles were the best!

Donna said...

What a lovely encounter - and very powerful, even now.
Such extraordinary human beings; true inspirations.
Thank you for sharing your memory.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I am blessed by it, even all these many years later.