How many of us would be willing to give 27 years of our life for the freedom of others?
How many of us would choose to stay in prison an extra few years when offered freedom because the freedom of others was not being assured, contracting tuberculosis from the conditions in prison along the way?
And how many of us would smile and forgive our captors after all of that?
Nelson Mandela did all of that and more.
He was the embodiment of laying down his life for his fellow man, of action instead of complaint, of leadership in the face of personal loss.
When Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95, he united the world's leaders in mourning, those from the lands of the free and the not-so-free, to pay their respects.
When he became president of the united South Africa, the post-segregation nation, he did not exact revenge or discipline. He set about building a unified nation with economic opportunity for all. He forged, through talks and negotiations, a nation from disparate viewpoints. He built unity that helped assure freedom that was on display during the days after his death, as South Africans, both white and black, shared their grief and their joy at remembering the man.
Mandela's ever-present smile beamed forth a message of joy at freedom, at being able to achieve a lifelong goal, at being able to be a part of changing his nation for the better.
His death closes a chapter on the 20th century fight for racial equality that must not be forgotten, nor reversed.
His own words set the bar high for all of us:
"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead."