Nelson Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom has just been transposed to what seems to be an epic movie. Epic is indeed a proper adjective for Mandela’s life, who spent a good portion of his adult life fighting the South African apartheid regime. In Mandela’s eyes, the only sane option was to resist a system which built walls of injustice between black and white people in the country. He organized an opposition party, wooed mass support, coordinated guerrilla efforts when diplomatic ones were met with indifference, worked during the night to lay low during the day, until he was captured by government forces in 1964. Deemed a threat to the country, he and his companions at the ANC received a life sentence in jail.
His active season had finished; a time of loneliness and reflection was starting. His last speech before his 27 years exile in Robben Island was a chance to take a final stand. Heading to his closing words, Mandela took a moment, faced the court judge in the eyes, and declared,
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela used his final public words to confirm his stand behind the cause he fought for. But then, a new season of opportunity opened itself after decades in solitary confinement. After being released from prison, Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994. His struggle for a democratic, equal society achieved its climax. The challenge of reorganizing a country around a new principle, equality among all, together with its political, economic, social, and geographic ramifications, took him to dramatic action as well as arid cabinet conversations around tea pots and tedious listening to complaints. Moments a biopic movie, often looking for the grandiose and cinematic, often understates. Routine at the presidential office was surely different than routine as an underground party leader. In his 1994 autobiography, Mandela states that “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
He found out, in other words, that life has ample space for the heroic as well as the mundane. Life is decided in boring moments as well as in epic ones. Sometimes the best one can do is to carry out the tasks of the day, have a telephone conversation, fill out a spreadsheet, file a report. Sometimes we watch an inspiring movie and have just menial tasks to fulfill when we come home.
Yet these moments are important, just as grand moments. Because the verve with which we face habitual duties will be the verve with which we will live the rest of our life. If we crumble before an uneventful day, so will we when it is time to take a life-altering stand, look someone in the eye or be ready to die for something.