Dear Madiba,

Today is your birthday.

I couldn’t get you a gift, because you’re not here to receive it. I couldn’t give you a hug, because you could not feel it. I couldn’t give you a prayer, because you want me to find the answers. I don’t even know the questions to ask.

You told me so much before you left us. You taught me how to stand. You taught me how to speak. You taught me how to live. But I’m still lost. You said there is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. But there are still neighbors who want me to be small, who don’t see my worth in living, who think I’m just another shadow of a man.

You said you believed that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. You told me you were brave! How could you be afraid? You said brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. But I am still feared in my own country. I am still feared by those who I would welcome into my home. I am feared by those who are meant to uphold the law.

You told me you found your passion in conquering not just the fears you held within, but the fears others held of you. You were locked away for a quarter of a century, a lifetime to too many, and came out stronger, defeating hate and building a coalition that changed the world. You were just one man, Madiba; how could you do what we could not?

I listened for you. I tried going around the world. I tried building wealth. I tried to learn through fancy books at fancy schools. But it wasn’t until I looked in the mirror that you answered.

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

You taught me a lot of things, Madiba. But the most important things were the answers you had me learn myself.

Thank you.

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