I am not a Rugby fan but I remember the sport boycott’s of apartheid South Africa. In my twenties, I waited along with the rest of the world for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. I read The Long Walk to Freedom, when it was first released, and rejoiced at Mandela’s election to the South African presidency. I sat glued to the television during the 1995 Rugby World Cup knowing I was seeing history in the making.
The Man in the Arena is a passage from US President, Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic. Mandela gave a copy of this speech to Francois Pienna, Captain of the South African Rugby team in the lead up to the World Cup.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
In Clint Eastwood’s movie version of these events, William Earnest Henley’s poem, Invictus, was used in its place.
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 bludgeoning 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.
Until today, when asked what famous person in the world I would most like to meet, I would have said Nelson Mandela. For I watched his legend unfold, knowing he favoured both the passage and the poem. They spoke of self-mastery – and a greatness of the soul. A greatness, Mandela strove for in his lifetime. One he showed us by example. Until his long walk was over.
Rest in peace Nelson Mandela.