From Capetown to Morristown: Reflections on the sweet sorrow of Nelson Mandella

Editor’s note: The Rev. Sidney Williams Jr. spent 18 months preaching in South Africa before becoming Pastor of Morristown’s Bethel A.M.E. Church in late 2010.

On the passing of Nelson Mandella (Madiba)

By Pastor Sidney Williams

In life we find it difficult to rejoice at times of departure. Whether saying goodbye to a child who is leaving for college, or a soldier who is leaving for war, “departing is such sweet sorrow.”

Juliet says this line to Romeo as she is saying goodbye to Romeo (Act II, Scene ii). The oxymoron “sweet sorrow” is created by the combination of Juliet being sad to leave Romeo, which is the “sorrow” part, and being excited by the idea of seeing him again, which is the sweetness she refers to.

The late Nelson Mandela. Images:

The late Nelson Mandela. Images:

In most cases we really do have confidence that we will see our loved ones soon, especially during the holidays.

In death, we live with the hope of seeing our loved ones again in a spiritual sense. However, when we consider the death of luminaries like Madiba, there is something much sweeter.

Madiba inspired the world to imagine life beyond our circumstances and to love our neighbors more than they have loved us. This radical demonstration of hospitality sparked an evolution in the pedagogy of the oppressed and the oppressor.

Unlike George Orwell’s depiction of the Animal Farm, the oppressed turned out to be kinder and gentler than any one could have imagined.

Madiba did not consider his imprisonment a reason to be become bitter, but rather he discovered something deep within himself that had been given to him at birth.

Madiba realized he was born to lead his nation out of fear and hatred. In fact, everything that Madiba experienced in life prepared him to be the nation’s first black president. Who could have imagined that 17 years later the United States of America would also elect its first black president?

Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Morristown's Bethel A.M.E. Church urges congregants to attend protest against gun violence. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Morristown’s Bethel A.M.E. Church  Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Although I never personally met Madiba, living in South Africa afforded my family the opportunity to experience his legacy.

The community we served was extremely poor and worked very hard to survive. By American standards they had every right to be bitter and selfish, but their culture of generosity and service was mind-blowing.

We soon discovered that we were being changed rather than them conforming to our way of doing things.

In fact, every thing we experienced during our time in South Africa prepared us to offer a radical demonstration of hospitality here in Morristown.

By choosing to live our lives like Madiba, all of us can experience “sweet sorrow.” We are sad that he is gone, but the sweetness is found in imagining life beyond our circumstances, and loving our neighbors more than they have loved us.



  1. David Evans says:

    He was the greatest man of his / our time and well deserved all the tributes paid to him.

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