Nelson Mandela (on the prison of hate)

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead me to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison…. Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) quotes are flying around in mad electronic flurries, and call me guilty: I haven’t been able to find the source for either of these (possibly connected?) excerpts. I have read them in reputable outlets, but I’d be happy if anyone could inform me about their provenance.

An elder for the world, though he never claimed to be a saint.

For all that, these are worthy, challenging, and even rather witty thoughts. They could have come from many a sainted mouth, though Mandela refused that term “unless by ‘saint’ you mean a sinner who keeps on trying”. The above quotation is deeply Christian, profoundly Buddhist, fundamentally Baha’i.

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Nelson Mandela (on genuine freedom)

“…My hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away

“Madiba”, South Africa’s “gift from God”, an African prince in his tribal regalia–before the 27 years on Robben Island.

someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

“When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But…the truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have…[taken only] the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Out of prison, and into the Presidency. There was rejoicing world-wide, but it surely was not a thrilling ride for him. What a burden to carry at his age.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), from his 1995 book The Long Walk to Freedom. Among the many things that he was, Mr. Mandela was a practical philosopher on the true meaning of ‘freedom’, a troublesome word in whose name a thousand lies have been told and a thousand oppressions have been hatched.

Jonathan Franzen (fictional glimpse: doomed male desire)

There’s nothing exceptional about this extract, which is the brilliance of Franzen’s Freedom. It is full of tawdry modern incidences and aggravatingly imperfect characters that we love, distrust, admire, roll our eyes about and want to shout at. It is also full of invention and lively details, superbly written but easily readable. (A little stamina will be needed, but. There’s another one here.) Sometimes he is nastily funny, and sometimes he makes depressingly accurate observations about how the “comfort-loving peoples of the West” live these days. (Which category does this micro-excerpt fit for you?)

Here, young and newly-wed Joey arrives at the airport to meet the most impossibly beautiful woman he’s known and (maybe) begin a torrid South American affair. (I won’t try to explain the ring.)

“The wedding ring was still stalled somewhere in his abdomen as he breasted through the churning warm sea of travellers at Miami International and located Jenna in the cooler, calm bay of a business-class lounge. She was wearing sunglasses and was additionally defended by an iPod and the latest Conde Nast Traveller. She gave Joey a once-over, head to toe, the way a person might confirm that a product she’d ordered had arrived in acceptable condition, and then removed the hand luggage from the seat beside her and — a little reluctantly, it seemed — pulled the iPod wires from her ears. Joey sat down smiling helplessly at the amazement of travelling with her. He’d never flown business-class before.”

Jonathan Franzen is an American novellist that you’ve likely heard of. I mull over the story of Joey Berglund and his family, with whom I’ve lived for a couple of weeks. I’ve gotten very close to his parents, Walter and Patty, though they drive me crazy.


Jonathan Franzen (in Freedom, on rival wives)

After a small festival of reading Franzen non-fiction, and non-fiction about Franzen, and speculating idly about the famous Franzen Twitter-aversitude, I dived into his most recent novel, Freedom. I read and enjoyed his The Corrections six or seven years ago, and have been waiting for “the right time” to start his newest. ‘Nuff waitin. Ain’t no ‘right time’. (Unless it’s now.) I’m a quite delicious (thank you) 164 pages in, with no real effort. Here are just a few sentences — the last knocked me out — brief character description that somehow implies an entire generational critique. Merrie Paulsen is a neighbour of protagonist Patty Berglund’s, and not in her fan club:

“Another problem…was that Patty was no great progressive and certainly no feminist (staying home with her birthday calendar, baking those goddamned birthday cookies) and seemed altogether allergic to politics. If you mentioned an election or a candidate to her, you could see her struggling and failing to be her usual cheerful self — see her becoming agitated and doing too much nodding, too much yeah-yeahing. Merrie, who was ten years older than Patty and looked every year of it, had formerly been active with the SDS in Madison and was now very active in the craze for Beaujolais nouveau…”

Jonathan Franzen, pp. 8-9 of the paperbook version of Freedom, just getting rolling. The SDS, for you youngsters and un-Americans, was the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society, which had no interest in wine or gentrification at all.



(Far Off)

BLURT4: Haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, but delighted to learn How To Be Alone, meditations upon writing, justice, much else.


BLURT5: Transcontinental Skype: disjointed, blurry, blurty, inaudible, peevish. But OH, the loveliness of family-ar faces, even metallic voices.

Howard Thurman (on freedom)

“There is…confusion as to the meaning of personal freedom. For some it means to function without limitations at any point, to be able to do what one wants to do and without hindrance. This is the fantasy of many minds, particularly those that are young. For others, personal freedom is to be let alone, to be protected against any force that may move into the life with a swift and decisive imperative. For still others, it means to be limited in one’s power over others only by one’s own strength, energy, and perseverance.

“…[These definitions] lack the precious ingredient, the core of discipline and inner structure without which personal freedom is a delusion. At the very centre, personal freedom is a discipline of the mind and of the emotions.”

Howard Thurman (1899-1981) , African American scholar, writer and pastor, from his book A Strange Freedom