Oh when the saints come marching in, oh when the saints come marching in, I want to be in that number when the saints come marching in.… They don’t just heal the sick, teach the children, or save the animals; sometimes, saints are revolutionaries who save a whole country, arguably, a whole world. Mandela was Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and George Washington all rolled into one. And that’s not even a bit of him.

Los Angeles, June 1990, waving our arms like grasses in the wind at USC’s Trojan Stadium with tens of thousands of elated people for an hour or more before he came out. And then—who was it? Arsenio Hall? Will “Fresh Prince” Smith? It was Hollywood after all—someone made tiny and naked by his presence introduced him. Ladysmith Black Mambazo—am I making that up? wasn’t there music? of course there was music—sang something uplifting. We sang “Biko” in the stands while we waited, remembering anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, killed in prison. A capella, not knowing each other, but together we knew all the words.

And then they came out. Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela spoke first. This was before we knew about the burning tires around the collaborators, the stoolies’ necks in Soweto. Before she was seen by any of us, in America anyway, as anything but the brave single-mother keeper of the flame, the leader’s face on the outside, his emissary in the freedom movement, the ANC’s point in Johannesburg. Has anybody heard … of Johannesburg? The revolution that was televised after all. Winnie looked in shock. Twenty-seven years on your own is a long time, and now this. But he, Nelson Mandela did not. He looked transported. After being all locked up, hard labor and solitary confinement, for a score and seven, he was comfortable addressing this stadium of all races in the second—the first?—biggest city in the United States. He waited calmly for us to stop screaming and crying, stomping our feet and hugging each other.

I can’t even remember what he said. Only that the periwinkle blue light that emanated from his being reached at least ten feet beyond him on all sides. It looked pink on the giant screens above him, but it glowed, pulsed, vibrated the most beautiful blue around the speck of the man way down on the stage.

He was calm. Not subdued. He was articulate and we could hear every word. I can’t remember a one except “thank you,” which made us all feel ashamed—of course we hadn’t done enough. We wept, sunk to the bleachers, grabbed each other’s hands, our hearts, gasped every time he said, “Thank you for supporting us.”

No, Nelson, Mr. Mandela, President Mandela—but he wasn’t president yet; none of it had happened yet; he was just an old man out of prison, but we all knew it was a done deal: Apartheid was over; Mandela would be president; South Africa would be redeemed; we all would be—No, Nelson Mandela, Mandiba, thank you.

Thank you for showing us power without domination, passion without violence, conviction without ideology, righteousness without judgment, love without submission, surrender without defeat. For showing us peace and happiness without victory, victory without losers, the transformed self with All That Is contained therein.

No saint is perfect; they are fallible women and men who step up for the good of all sentient beings. Whatever you want to call this great man, he is dead. But his spirit will live forever in all of ushuman beings.

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