Recently it seems counterproductive to watch – or even listen to – the evening news. The destruction from weather events is bad enough, but the way people are judging and treating each other around our country and in the world is unconscionable. We need more stories of courage to keep the light strong and our willingness to fan the flames of unifying love alive.
Meg Wheatley has a brief but powerful story that speaks to the power of the human spirit. She was touring Robben Island in South Africa where Nelson Mandela and others struggling against apartheid were imprisoned for over 25 years. She recounts the event as follows.
We were standing in a long narrow room that had been used as a prison cell for dozens of freedom fighters. They lived in close quarters in this barren room – no cots or furniture, just cement walls and floors with narrow windows near the ceiling. We stood there listening to our guide’s narration. He had been a prisoner in this very room. The cold came up through the floor into our feet as we gazed around the lifeless cell. We stared through the bars of the door as he described the constant threats and capricious brutality they had suffered. Then he paused and gazed down the length of the room. Speaking very quietly, he said: “Sometimes, to pass the time here, we taught each other ballroom dancing.”
She concludes: I have never forgotten that image, of demoralized and weary men teaching each other to dance in the cold silence of a long prison cell. Only the human spirit is capable of such dancing. (turning to one another, p.74)
All I see in my mind’s eye in the wake of that story is the face of Nelson Mandela on the day of his release from that prison – and again on the day that he was elected president of South Africa. His smile was so broad it lit up the world.
Let us think on these things when we are feeling bowed down. We say, “Yes, but he was extraordinary.” We need, rather, to turn to one another and draw the extraordinary out of each other – together.