happy birthday to "the Arch!"
|tenacity and hope in the most unhospitable of places|
I often think of Ghandi's famous words (even if it is not completely clear that it was actually he who said them) and use them as a measure and a reminder for the way that I try to live my life.
I use them as a measure for other people too. For me, professing to be a Christian means that you have voluntarily set the bar that measures your behaviour, your reactions and the way that you live your life, every moment of the day. (Even when no one is watching).
It is a particular joy to come across an individual who actually practices what he preaches. Someone who, like Paul, could say "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ".
For me, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who turns 79 today, epitomises that example
He is the elder statesman of South Africa and has been described as the conscience of our nation, but he is more than that. He is a man who epitomises a life well lived. He is a man of courage who is filled with compassion and empathy.
I remember the first time I met him. He had just been elected as Archbishop of Cape Town and had moved into the famous Bishop's Court residence which came as part of the package with his new status. It was a very big deal for many people: not only was he the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, but he was living in a traditionally white, very wealthy area.
I was about 26 years old, with two small sons, and was involved with the End Conscription Campaign that was trying to prevent the conscription by the Nationalist government of white boys to fight against their own countrymen. I don't remember all the details, but one of the events we organised was an outing for children from one of the townships outside Cape Town to Bishops Court.
There were groups of children in their underwear (most didn't own bathing costumes) jumping in and out of the pool. There were other groups, bewilderedly trying to play the "non competitive games" we felt were so important (it doesn't work... children always want to win!). I was packing brown paper lunch bags (all exactly the same, in the spirit of equality and non competitiveness) with a couple of other women. It was only when the Arch came up and gave the woman next to me a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek, that I realised that I had been chatting to Leah Tutu as we worked.
He was filled with the glee that is so much part of his life. He was giggling about the fact that his neighbours had been concerned about him "busing in people from the townships" and here we were, with bussload or two of children, having fun and working together and getting a taste of what a non-racial society could be.
I saw him many times after that, at prayer vigils in the St George's Cathedral crypt, leading marches, filled with grief at funerals and (on television) filled with excitement and hope as Mandela was released and it looked like our dream of a non racial society - his Rainbow Nation - would become a reality.
I saw the television footage of him, breaking down in tears at the Truth Commission as he could no longer bear the desperate stories of man's inhumanity to man.
But in spite of all that he has seen and heard and lived through, he remains what a true Christian should be: courageous, honest, true, compassionate and filled with joy and hope.
Today he officially retires from public life, but he will certainly remain in my heart - and many others - as an example of a principled man and someone who has truly followed the example of Christ.
I wish Ghandi was still around to meet him!
Want to see Tutu meet Tutu, the ZaNews puppet? go here
And there is a wonderful interview in Time with the bishop. I particularly loved this quote: