Nelson Mandela died today, at age 95, after a long illness. He was one of the most extraordinary figures of our time — a selfless man in an increasingly selfish world, a man whose example was so deeply powerful that it brought down a wicked regime, and a man whose compelling life story was inspirational to millions around the world.
Mandela fought against the evil of apartheid, which legalized and institutionalized racism in South Africa. He was jailed for his efforts, spent almost three decades in prison cells, and became the most celebrated political prisoner in the world. He was freed, immediately became a leading voice in the country, and was elected president when South Africa held its first all-race election in 1994. Crucially, Mandela did not use his ascension to power to obtain vengeance for his years of wrongful imprisonment. Instead, he supported a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought to expose the wrongs of apartheid and heal his divided country. His actions demonstrated his commitment to peace and inclusiveness and made him the most deserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in a generation.
It is interesting that this astonishing historical figure bore the name Mandela — pronounced in the same way as the mandala, a Buddhist and Hindu concept that represents the universe as a circle. In those religions, a mandala is an instrument of peaceful meditation and a gathering point for essential universal forces. Nelson Mandela, too, was a gathering point for universal concepts of peace, and freedom, and equality, and he served in that role with decency and without rancor. A true giant has left the world stage.