Friday, December 6, 2013

That Cool Guy - Mandela

Nelson Mandela.  Madiba.  Father of South Africa.  Peacemaker. Visionary.  Leader. Husband. Father. Grandfather.  Humanitarian. Activist. Politician. Prisoner.

I am relieved that Nelson Mandela’s life has finally come to an end.  I feel sure that the last months could not have been easy.  Although most of us die in hospital, most of us aspire to finish our days in our own homes, with those we love.  Madiba achieved that, which is fitting for a man who achieved so much.

It was during the 80s that the situation in South Africa started to seep into my consciousness.  I was aware of the furore caused rugby teams from these islands who continued to play in South Africa when many sporting teams were boycotting the country in protest against apartheid.   I was aware of the young girls of my own age who had lost their jobs in Dunne’s Stores for refusing to handle South African fruit. 

But it was the late 80s before I became aware of this man, this Nelson Mandela.  This was due mainly to the song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and the 70th Birthday Concert which was organised in London, featuring some of music’s very best acts including Dire Straits and The Eurythmics.  It was a kind of political Live Aid.  So I thought this Nelson Mandela must be a pretty cool guy.

A few years later, in February 1990 I was glued to my TV as this ‘cool guy’, Mandela, who up until that point was just a silent, invisible figurehead, walked out of prison, hand in hand with his wife Winnie.  He was an old man, albeit an elegant one who walked very erect and slowly presumably savouring sweet freedom.  I, along with everyone else got my first real look at this man we knew but didn’t know at all.

Since then we have all watched this elderly man as he led South Africa into a new dawn of peace.  His presence was welcomed all over the world as he shared his wisdom and his crusade for peace and freedom.  And that make us so very lucky. 

Our children and our children’s children and their children will learn about Nelson Mandela.  They will watch videos of him and they will read his speeches.  We however, have been given the privilege of watching Mandela’s journey and that of South Africa in real time.  And for that I am so grateful. 

Mandela was a visionary leader.  He was a gifted orator.  But he also had wisdom borne from a deep self knowledge, which I assume came from the long years he spent incarcerated.  He was the physical embodiment of that famous Gandhi quote - “Be The Change You Want To See In The World.”  Mandela walked his talk and did so with grace.

Along with his wisdom was the inner peace of a man at ease with himself and his shortcomings.  “Don’t make me a saint”, he said, “I am no saint”.  But more than this, what made Mandela outstanding as a statesman was his humour.  He was quick to laugh and he poked fun at himself regularly.  He wore his greatness lightly.  And only the true greats of politics have conquered their ego sufficiently to not take themselves too seriously.

The world will wait some time to see his like again.  Thank God for Madiba.  May he rest in peace. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

SEND A CHRISTMAS CARD.. but do it right!

On a shelf, in the corner of my living room are this year’s supplies, neatly arranged in three piles with two of my favourite pens lined up alongside. I am now waiting for the right moment.  Preferably a cold, frosty night when I can light the fire, turn off the TV, pour a glass of wine.  I have to be in the right frame of mind.  This is not a job to be tackled when tired or grumpy.  My heart must be open and my mood should be good.  Then, placing a large book on my lap to function as a table, I can begin. 

The writing of the Christmas Cards should never be rushed.  It is something to do carefully and with thought.  If you have a variety of card designs it is important to match the right card with the right recipient.  Before you have written one word, your choice of card already says something for you.  In my case I usually buy cards from an animal charity which will go to friends who I know have pets.  It’s probably not a great idea to send a cute kitty card to someone who hates cats!   I also usually buy cards with the message ‘as Gaeilge’ and well as ‘as Bearla’ and a lot of these cards will go overseas. 

There is no excuse not to buy a charity card.  Most charities sell them so there is a huge variety.  And remember to buy direct from the charity rather than give a department store a cut of the price also.  When I receive cards it is always interesting to see what charities friends are supporting.  A non charity is card is bad form. 

The writing of the card is where many people really let themselves down.  Merely scribbling your signature on the bottom is really not on – I would prefer no card than to receive such an impersonal non effort.  If you are sending cards - do it right.

A good pen is important.  But no matter how brilliant the pen is, it still can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  So take your time and ‘do your best writing’.  And begin by always addressing those to whom you are sending the card.  So your card should start with a ‘Dear’ or ‘To’.....

Then please - write an actual message. This is the whole point of sending a card and it’s worth putting in a bit of thought into.  Usually I find that my Christmas Card recipients fall into a few distinct categories.  There are those who you see regularly and to whom a nice wish for the festive season and perhaps the coming year is appropriate.  Then there are those people you no longer see regularly and so an extra line or two hoping all is well with them is a nice touch.  Finally there are those with whom you only correspond at Christmas.  I love this category because to me this group encapsulate the real meaning of the festive season.  These are old friends or family who you still hold dear and so it’s nice perhaps to write a short paragraph giving them a quick update on your affairs. 

To me this is what Christmas should be about - connecting with people.  It’s a once a year opportunity to tell those family and friends that you value them and to send them your best wishes.  I love to receive a chatty, newsy card.

So to finish.... are you a ‘love from’ or a ‘best wishes’ person?  Either are OK but do write all the names from whom this card comes.  In other words don’t be attempted to do initials.  It’s OK to shorten the entire family to ‘and family’ or similar and this particularly can be handy when you have lost track of the recipients children.

Finally – addressing the envelope.  I have only one thing to say about this!  Women are people too.  They are not extensions of their husband.  If I get a card addressing me as Mrs Paul Sherwood it’s going in the bin.  I think that’s clear enough.

But do send cards.  And if I haven’t convinced you, then please don’t bother including me for one of those awful virtual cards via Facebook or Email.  You know the ones that play dire music and have cutesy animation.  THEY ARE NOT CARDS. 

Cards are written by hand and are delivered by the postman.  But best of all they can be displayed in your home suffusing your living space with their good wishes and festive cheer.  So do send a card.... but do it right.