Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Unconquerable Soul

Others who saw the film "Invictus" (Latin for "unconquered") may have been moved - as I was — to re-read the poem by William Ernest Henley that in the film inspired Nelson Mandela during his 27 years of captivity as a political prisoner.

Most potent for me in Henley's poem are the lines "I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul."

I found myself asking what was the source of Mandela's gift, his own unconquerable soul, that his depth of compassion allowed him to bring two former enemies together with such certainty and courage? He personally had suffered greatly for his beliefs, and yet he found a way to be so completely present that he changed the meaning of "unconquerable." In his actions the word had nothing to do with war metaphors of "beating" or "winning." His "unconquerable soul" instead was an unquenchable flame.

Mandela modeled what all of us — and especially our world leaders — must be able to do. He moved through his own grief to a larger space where innovative ways of thinking are possible.

Now we grieve for Mandela himself. May we also hold the space that is beyond grief for a world where we welcome our brothers and sisters.

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