Last night I sat beside my daughter Eden at the Kennedy Center, watching the premier of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” There was hoopla, because this is Washington. So John McCain, Colin Powell, and Hilary Clinton introduced the movie, and its executive producer, Harvey Weinstein, welcomed us. Then the film began—and before it was over, I cried.
The tears came when Mandela saw his daughter for the first time in 11 years; now 16, he had not seen her since she was five. And the few minutes they had together was through a thick glass partition, with no possibility of touch. I thought about my daughter sitting beside me, and took her hand in mine, bringing it to my face, aware of the tears running down my cheeks.
A long time ago she was a little girl, and learning to live in the world. I still remember trying to teach her about tears, and said to her several times over several years, “Darling, you need to save your tears. Someday you will need them, so don’t use them all up right now.” She began to understand, I think, living into her own loves and longings as she has. Over time she has seen much of the world: from the glory and shame of Washington, DC, to the heartache of rural Kenya, to the majesty of Switzerland, to the cynicism of Romania, and on and on, now home again in Washington, doing her work in the more imploded neighborhoods of the city.
To hold the world in one’s heart is harder than we ever imagine. How can we honestly know the world, and still love it? That is the question of these years of my life.
And very poignantly, very powerfully, that is the heart of this film. How do we explain Mandela’s life? How do we begin to understand a man who suffered so horribly for so long, and yet chose to love? How do we ever explain someone who understands his society with its systemic and historic injustice, and decides, for love’s sake, to take responsibility for the way the world turns out?
Vocation– that is the way we work this out in life. In and through our vocations we take the world into our hearts, complex and wounded as it always is, and we choose to love what we know. And sometimes we will cry, if we have any tears left.
(Photo is from last night at the Kennedy Center, with Senator John McCain speaking before the film, remembering his own years of torture and imprisonment as we began watching “Mandela.”)