Where does your motivation come from? Is it from a desire to do good? From your faith? From your family? From your partner? Somewhere else? I have heard many different answers to that question and what does inspiration involve anyway?
On July 12, 2002, I achieved my dream of seeing the man who has always been my inspiration… his name is Nelson Mandela.
The 14th World AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, was coming to a close and all the participants were headed for the main arena. Two people were heroes to those of us in the HIV world and they were now about to appear on stage… Former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.
As the crowds settled in their seats, in one section there was a mass of yellow… some of us strained to see what was going on and then the cameras zoomed in and they appeared on the giant screens in front of us… South Africans, joyfully and rhythmically dancing as one; the singing was happy and exuberant; they wore beautiful clothes and flags were being waved. Everyone in the audience watched them and smiled. These people knew that their “father” was about to appear.
Using a cane and the arm of former President Clinton, Mr. Mandela walked onto the stage to a standing ovation. He seemed extremely frail and I was worried he would not last the year.. that was eleven years ago..
I wonder how many people remember his message at that conference?…
He called for universal access to anti-retroviral AIDS treatment for ALL adults, regardless of ability to pay or country they lived in. He called on HIV people to publically speak out about access and, if they lived in a country where access was unavailable, to demand it.
He went on to say that drugs exist that can extend people’s lives several years and “if parents can live even a few years longer that gives the children a much better opportunity for survival and development… those would be the most precious years.”
He urged people not to give up hope but to fight for their right to treatment.*
I left the conference and noticed the people around me excitedly chatting – we were thrilled to see both Presidents but I wondered how many would go home and do what Mandela suggested. I knew I had no choice.. he was my inspiration.
His ability to face years of prison for fighting for basic human rights and then, upon release, to forgive his captors – and even have Truth and Reconciliation Hearings – this was no ordinary individual.
When something or someone inspires us, I believe they should also challenge us too – to be a better human, to make a difference.
Nelson Mandela’s quote has been one of my hardest challenges. He said that if you want peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. It’s incredibly tough to deal with bureaucrats who fight to stymie generic medication going to those in need. Sometimes it seems impossible to work with such people. But it is something that Nelson Mandela did when he was freed and I have to do it because Nelson Mandela, my hero, has asked me to and if I want to be a better person – and be an inspiration to others – I have to accept the challenge and fulfill it.
Finally, I personally want to add that I am praying for peace and freedom from pain for Nelson Mandela.
I encourage you to find your inspiration and your challenge too.