A Lifetime

Freedom, forgiveness, and turning 28.

“You had enough opportunity to sit down and think,” Nelson Mandela once commented. “And you were in contact with a lot of people who had a high education and who were widely traveled. When they told of their experiences, you felt humbled.”

He wasn’t talking about the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law, or any of the international forums he attended as one of the most respected leaders of our time.

He was referring to the 27 years he spent in jail, where he was forced to bust rocks in a lime quarry and allowed to receive only one letter every six months.

Twenty-seven years. It’s something that we have already taken for granted about this man — that he was able to emerge from such a long period of imprisonment speaking not of retribution and rage but humility and forgiveness. We forget that at no point during those 27 years was his release guaranteed (he was serving a life sentence) or was it a given that he wouldn’t end up like so many of his colleagues, dead from an “accidental” head wound.

Today I am celebrating my 28th birthday. I am reflecting on the events of my life and where they have led me: 16-odd years of education, five years of living abroad, countless books read, movies watched, concerts attended, friendships come and gone.

I am imagining a man walking into my past. One by one he takes away every choice I was free to make, all the things I was free to read and watch and hear, all the places I was free to go, all the friends I was free to love.

He replaces them with a small room and a handful of strangers.

I am imagining myself trying to forgive him.

Article © 2007 by Dennis Wilson