At the end of each year, the days grow short. Darkness prevails—but only for a brief time. We know this, and we celebrate not the dark, but the light that is coming and the hope that it brings.
This year we also celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, who brought liberation to South Africa and hope to a world that badly needs it.
Mandela would say that he did not do this, that change in his country was the work of many, not one. No great work—in politics, in science, even in more solitary disciplines like literature—happens in isolation. All build on the work of those who came before and depend for their success on the cooperation of others. That is what Mandela would probably say, and he would be right.
Yet he would also be wrong. The change in South Africa was the work of many, but it would not have come about without the vision of one who saw that he could not liberate the oppressed without also liberating their oppressors.
That was Mandela's central quest: to bring justice and healing to all who had been damaged by apartheid. South Africa's break with its past came, in the end, peacefully. Its rebuilding process has not ended, and we still do not know whether it will succeed. What we do know is that Nelson Mandela saw further and understood what was needed more deeply than any of us.
Mandela succeeded beyond all hope. He had been labeled a terrorist, yet he brought not revenge but reconciliation. He had been a prisoner of his country, yet he became its president. In the end he voluntarily relinquished his office, thereby affirming the future of democracy in South Africa.
As we observe the holidays this year, let us also remember Nelson Mandela. As we seek justice, peace, and hope, in small ways or large, we will honor his life and help to build a world that is better than the one we inherited. That is the best way to celebrate.