“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Nelson Mandela from “Long Walk To Freedom”
This excerpt from Mandela’s autobiography is placed in the spinal unit where everyone, patients and visitors, can read it and be inspired by it. In this place where we might expect to find the greatest tragedies, grief and sadness, we hear laughter, and witness triumph. Here, where many struggle to use weak limbs and rely on others to perform the most personal of cares, we can see strength of character, determination and perseverance, rise above the limits of physical abilities. Those who will rely on others to meet their physical needs, show that they are in charge of their spiritual and emotional selves. Those with the most severe physical impairments will climb hills as high as Mandela’s, and as many.
Few of us will have been called to a cause as great and noble as Mandela’s. Few of us will have to deal with challenges of the severely physically impaired. Our hills may not be as high or as many as theirs, but all of us at some time find ourselves on a journey that challenges us emotionally and physically.
Who doesn’t recognise the fear of failure – at school or university, at work, at home with children. These are often the private moments when we battle with our demons. Meeting deadlines, interpreting the subtleties of workplace dynamics. Confronting insecurities and inadequacies at work and at home. The parent who cannot cope with endless tantrums of the two year old, eventually finds some peace then discovers that teenage tantrums may be worse.
Then there is the stress of making decisions. Or the stress of balancing so many things competing for our attention, and so little time to resolve them.
Oh, but the joy of overcoming these demons, emerging, not unscathed, but wiser and with some successes.
It’s important for all of us to take time to look back at the hills we have climbed, to take time to look around us and enjoy the moment, to steady ourselves for the next hill, and know that there are more to come. It is at this point, as we take a look at the next hill, that we choose to be helpless or hopeful.