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Nelson Mandela’s window and our quarantine

David Hannaford
David Hannaford |

Imagine being in a small prison cell with only one window for 27 years. Then restricted to a single visitor each year and only permitted to write a one-page letter every six months. Cold, dark, and lonely with nothing to do except sit and think. This was the reality for Nelson Mandela. He was to be South Africa’s future President and one of the world’s most inspiring leaders, yet he had been formed in the pain of apartheid and, day after day, faced a seemingly endless lock down.

Mandela used his time to envision a different and reborn South Africa. He embraced the tree of hope for a better world where people respected one another and strove for unity; a brotherhood of man. His famous cell window provided him with an eye to the world, even though having such a limited view, he could appreciate what he once took as trivial - the simplest amenities; a walk in the park, the breath of a cool breeze, a sun-kissed landscape; All this was an integral part of his pursuit of freedom for his people. For this inspirational man, that small window was a place to enlarge his vision for the day he would emerge from captivity. He later penned in his memoirs his reflections on life and liberty, on love and a longing for fellowship.

I am an Australian writing from the United States, now in our 45th day of lockdown. This has been absolutely nothing in comparison to what Mr. Mandela must have endured. Yet, in this shadow of his reality, I have learned so much, had much to reflect upon and appreciated every minute of my captivity.

I too have a window, a very small portal in my bathroom where every day during the pandemic I look outside. The fear and panic at times have been palpable. It has been tragic to hear of the loss of life, economies in turmoil and nations shaking.

However, I am not writing about the present, but the future — one where hope and lives are reborn.

Mr. Mandela envisioned his presidency from his window. His limited physical view of nothing notable or impressive faded away into his unparalleled vision of a future of possibilities.

Many dreams are birthed in places of solitude and obscurity. When distraction is taken away, we have time to focus on what is really important. Imagine what it felt like to simply shake someone’s hand, to see them smile or even hear them speak?

I think of all the generations of people like Mandela who have gone before us who endured a much harder “captivity” than our present one and emerged to fight on and change the world.

We must not lose hope. Mr. Mandela enriched his diplomacy skills, wrote poetry and verse, and developed a determination forged from adversity and separation. When he emerged, he came out a different man, ready to work towards his vision and not quit or ever give up, but eventually lead a nation.

My window has purpose and meaning, and so does yours.

I see people separated yet reaching out to one another... Stories of priorities changed, focus shifted, and vision birthed.

How do you see your captivity? I urge you to see it as an opportunity to birth vision. Don't emerge from quarantine the same but changed…better.

I have learned more from the past two months than I could have from one hundred self-help seminars. And what about the world as a whole?  When we surface from our lockdown, will we come together?

Unfortunately, history shows us that humanity has a way of moving on and forgetting too quickly the valuable lessons it just learnt. Perhaps our scars of memory are the lives we lost during this crisis or our loss of financial security for now. The best way is to look back whilst looking forward.

We can do this by actively recalling sights and sounds of cheers and applause for front line workers from people outside Spanish hospitals. Then there were the individuals praying by the hundreds in the car parks of emergency centers across the US. What about the powerful sight of Italians singing and playing guitar to ‘How Great is Our God’ in an apartment block during extreme lockdown. Perhaps it could all be summarized by remembering Andrea Bocelli singing “Amazing Grace” outside the Duomo Di Milano Cathedral at Easter?

Let’s remember the fallen and embrace the living. Each of us has a purpose in the plan. As we slowly again see the light of viral emancipation, may it be through a new and better lens. Perhaps we will realize we are all one big family, created in God’s image where each life is precious and valuable.

Treasure your freedom. Protect it and strive to live by the old military creed, “No one left behind.”

Our collective captivity has a window, one offering opportunity and promise. We may not emerge to lead a nation as Mr. Mandela did, but we can all help change the world.

Dr. David Hannaford, along with his wife, Melise, have served for two decades as directors of Twin Cities International Ministry, based in Australia. They minister to church leaders globally. They currently focus on developing an international initiative to develop nutritional formulations to feed the homeless, with a pilot project underway in Los Angeles.

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