The hardy yet delicate Nadeshiko flowers of Japan won the Women's World Cup against all odds today. They played with the same deep concentration and dedication with which they closed their eyes as they listened to their national anthem play in Frankfurt Stadium at the beginning of the match. Watching the game made me think about the movie Invictus, in which Nelson Mandela, the newly elected President of a fragile post-apartheid South Africa, decides to throw his support behind the South African Rugby team.
To many, the almost all-white South African team was a symbol of the worst aspects of apartheid and the previous regime. Blacks in South Africa associated the game of rugby with their Afrikaner and English oppressors and erst-while masters. Their game was the "the beautiful game" - football – the game the US and Japanese women played so brilliantly today. Yet, Mandela knew that truth and reconciliation would only become real, if he could reassure white South Africans that the new free South Africa could be a place where white and black communities could live together, study together, and play both football and rugby together. He took huge risks to do this - many in his own party, the African National Congress were displeased and disappointed with his stance on ensuring the success of the South African rugby team when there seemed to be so many more pressing matters on hand.
The movie is called Invictus because Mandela was inspired by a poem of the same name that helped him resist despair and rage during his years in prison. It tells the classic story of an underdog team that manages to pull out a victory in the face of incredible obstacles. Yet, the story is glorious not so much as a result of the defiant and determined work of players on the field, but for what it represents in terms of a process of change that slowly seeks to repair the torn fabric of South African society.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
All of us watching the game today knew how profound a win would be for the Japanese people, who have had their more than their share of "wrath and tears". Tomorrow, as the Japanese celebrate the achievements of their resilient women's team, South Africans and many others around the globe, will also be celebrating Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday. He is plans to celebrate with something special and he is asking us to join him. I learned about this from a (s)hero of mine: Ela Bhatt, an Elder, a Gandhian and a labor union organizer, who founded the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA). She writes in her blog Peace by Practice the following words: "I believe strongly that to bring widespread change, we must first make that change ourselves. Another great teacher, Mahatma Gandhi, imagined this as ripples in water, small circles of change that grow ever wider. Our actions have an impact we may never even see."
So, how can you celebrate Madiba's 93rd birthday and the victory of a team that believed nothing was impossible? It starts by doing something small that can make a difference. Be patient when pedestrians cross the street. Let someone cut in front of you as you drive to work. Write a letter to someone you know would love to get a real letter or card from you. Make that donation to the non-profit you know you have been meaning to support. Invite a friend who has had a rough week to go for a walk. Call your Congresswoman and tell them how you really feel about the what needs to be done. Switch off your phone and give your kids/spouse/lover a whole hour (maybe a day!?) of yourself minus any gadgets!
Wish Mandela a Happy Birthday with Nadeshiko Flowers - small, meaningful acts of peace!