, Newburyport, MA

December 7, 2013

Reflecting on Mandela's life

Bill Plante
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Big Freddy was sitting with his eyes closed and his chins on his chest when I joined him for our mid-morning coffee and whatever.

“Are you asleep or dead?” I asked as I pushed my way into my side of the booth.

“I was cogitating about Nelson Mandela,” he said.

“Cogitating?” I asked. “Looked more like you were daydreaming.”

“Cogitating goes deeper than daydreaming,” Freddy said.

“And what, beside his death set you off?” I asked.

“The coverage,” Freddy said.

“It’s well warranted,” I said. “Great man, great story. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” Freddy said. “He changed more than his part of the world in his lifetime, without trying to get even. That’s more than something.”

“So have others in history – Mahatma Ghandi for one,” I said.

“And others as well, over time, but it took longer to get the word around back then,” Freddy said.

“I think you need a re-fill,” I said, as I waved to the waitress.

“Just suppose what life would have been like if there had been radio and television a couple of thousand of years ago,” Freddy said.

“I have enough trouble dealing with what life is like for too many today —never mind the past,” I said. “Ancient history is what it is, and what we’re doing and dealing with today is going to be ancient history for those living in the year 4013, if the world’s still habitable.”

“But think about it,” Freddy said. “We’re about to celebrate Christmas. OK, it’s not a holy day for everyone, but suppose TV had been around when Christ was born.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “TV coverage of just a young couple having a baby in a stable way back then? Is that only coffee in your cup?”

“Hear me out,” Freddy said.

“History making is on fast forward, but if TV had been around and got wind of there being three Wise Men traveling as far as they did to pay homage to the birth of a baby boy named Jesus, that would have made the evening news and talk shows big time.”

“And even bigger coverage when he was crucified,” I said. “But what has to do with Mandela? It took more than most of his lifetime to turn things around.”

“Without losing his life for one thing, and not trying to get even while doing it once he was free,” Freddy said. “Think about it. Ghandi loses his. So does Lincoln.”

“But Mandela lives to a great age — more than a quarter of it spent in a cell smaller than a bath room, but he succeeds by accepting what he couldn’t change while hanging tough for turning things around.”

“Well, he certainly is one for the ages,” I said.

“Not only for what he accomplished, but by the way he accepted reality and didn’t try to get even,” Freddy said.

“Too bad there’s not more of that going around in Washington,” I said.

“And spoil all the fun everyone’s having?,” Freddy said. “Perish the thought.”

Bill Plante is a a Newbury resident and staff columnist.