Today, we are pleased to have a guest post from South African children’s author Taryn Hayes. Her book, Seekers of the Lost Boy, has made the rounds in our family, receiving enthusiastic thumbs up from our ten and seven year-olds. Taryn’s book explores her native land’s apartheid past, forgiveness, and reconciliation. These are also the themes of her guest post. (Note: I’ve done us all a favour and cheerfully decided against Americanizing the spelling. ) Cheers, Taryn! –S. D. Smith
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We were pouring over the glossy pages, the kids and I. The crackling fire, the gentle rain, the hot cocoa perched precariously on the edge of the coffee table – all symbolic of a winter’s afternoon of read-aloud cosiness – were forgotten in the awe of the moment. How does a man, beaten, broken and jailed for 27 years, walk free to embrace his captors?
This question was echoed by even the littlest of the sweet, freckle-sprinkled faces looking up at me. We read on. At times, it was my quaking voice that tripped up the flow of the story. But we kept on, little hands exploring the colourful pages, asking questions, staring in wonder at the face of Nelson Mandela. Madiba. Tata. The father of our rainbow nation.
Why was he so kind to the people who put him in jail, Mommy?
Living in South Africa, my children are not unaware of poverty, crime and government corruption. They feel the tensions, the concerns. Our walls are high, the electric fence buzzing in the wet winter. Food and charity are given to sunken-eyed adults and grubby-faced children through the steel bars of our gate. And yet, these children of mine are not jaded. They are filled with hope. Hope that spills out from the pages of the story on my lap. And they love. They love this man they have never met. Their eyes light up when they hear how he visited with the widow of the man who started the horror called apartheid. He had tea with her, Mommy? He did, indeed. And, yes, he did embrace the men who jailed him. One called him “the perfect gentleman”. He saw and loved and believed and forgave. And the world came to love him.
We stared at the last page – a multitude of hued faces stared back, smiling. Madiba’s warm embrace enfolds them. The colourful flag unites them. One nation. The rainbow nation.
And they are inspired.
A few days later and it’s Thursday, July 18. Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. As a nation, we celebrate Mandela’s 67-year-long fight for freedom by giving 67 minutes of our time serving others. Each year, the kids and I hand out free hot chocolate to those heading home after a long day. The train station at the end of our road means that we collect even school children and businessmen. Nannies, tradesmen, neighbours and the homeless trickle past our gate.
And it’s in that moment that I marvel. It’s Mandela’s story that has us sitting out on the street. It’s his story that peels back our fear just as our electric gate motor whirrs to a stop with our driveway open and vulnerable. It’s his dream that inspires us to keep hoping.
As my neighbours and children pour another cup of hot chocolate, I remember my eldest daughter’s words just an hour before, “I hope that God allows it to rain now, and then clears it up with a rainbow, so that He can remind us that we are the rainbow nation.” And I remember the rainbow, bright in the sky, literally ten minutes after the sudden shower of rain followed her words. And I am grateful. Grateful for the story of the man who chose to forgive. And grateful for The Story of the God who chose to forgive.