On July 6, 2018, the New York Times published an Essay by the Novelist Tayari Jones on “The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela”, a book containing more than 250 letters he wrote during his imprisonment in South Africa for more than 27 years – from November 7, 1962 to February 11, 1990. The book is being published this month in honor of Mandela’s 100th birthday. There is no way I can improve on Jones’ writing, so I will write directly from just a portion of it.
“Mr. Mandela was 44 years old and the father of five young children when he was first sent to prison…Many of the letters speak directly to the pain and challenges of being held apart from his family. Letter writing and mail was severely restricted by prison authorities, and many of Mandela’s letters were censored or never delivered.
“Writing to his wife Winnie nearly seven years into his imprisonment, Mandela shares his thoughts on the power of positive thinking. He makes the basic point that it is not so much the disability one suffers from that matters but one’s attitude to it. The man who says: I will conquer this illness and live a happy life, is already halfway to victory.
“Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost.”
Over the last years as I have met and spoken with countless people, both in and out of the legal profession, the one constant desire they all express is to have hope, both for the present and the future. Whether it is a person who is facing great personal loss or other adversity, it is the desire that all will work out to a good end that is expressed.
I understand that hope, by itself, is not a plan. But it is the underlying strength of being able to put one foot in front of the other.
There is the family, not far from Raleigh, who not quite twenty-five years ago, experienced the loss of their teenage daughter in a horrific car accident, just after Christmas Day. Their daughter did not die but has lived ever since in a nursing home, alive, but missing the everyday joys of experiencing life. This family has chosen to embrace her and what happened to her, and her mother will tell you that her daughter’s life is a blessing to all who have met and known her as she has given many smiles to all who have visited her over the years and continue to do so. One of the great rewards to what I do is that I was able to be one of those people.
And my great friend from Asheville, a paralegal extradionaire in a major law firm, confronting the knowledge she had breast cancer with the question to her doctor, “what doors do I have to walk through to survive?” found a renewed purpose in living a happy and purposeful life, and who today, is more than ten years out from that time.
Finally, there is my longtime friend, a prominent attorney and state official, whose son lost his life when being hit by a taxi in New York City just over two years ago, and whose family is still struggling with their loss but are determined now to smilingly remember his young life and once again choose to go forward with theirs.
It is hope, and of course faith, courage, love and a strong will to survive and live that enables all of these good people.
In living the only life we have, why would anyone ever choose anything other than hope? Several years ago, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, the New York Times published a photograph of a young African American girl walking up the center aisle of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, carrying a large picket sign with the word “HOPE” written on it.
And so, with this new writing, I want to encourage everyone who reads this to have hope for today and for the future. If you are now experiencing adversity of any kind, the words the late actor Gracie Allen once wrote to her husband George Burns, not long before she died seem appropriate… “George, do not put a period where God has only placed a comma.”