Two dates that have been burnt into the history books of our shared world.
Two lives, just one year apart in age, born worlds away from one another, working in worlds far from one another, taking their last breaths 7 days apart from one another, always, each day of their working lives, connected by one shared principle and one idealistic view on living an honourable life: service above self.
Like a flash of lightning during a dark storm, illuminating deep, daunting shades of grey through flashes of sharp, fresh silver, these two lives have broken open a worldwide build-up of emotion, of frustration, of quiet knowing yet deafening silence. As lightning does, its strike cuts through other noise, other distractions, widening the lens of ‘I’ to see vividly a wider ‘we’….in all of its stormy state.
First it was Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006, at a time when global challenges were to be taken very, very personally. For his time, for his leadership, he and the UN were honoured as co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.
Still, with an unshakable, undeniable honesty and profound sense of responsibility to shine the light on and act for those suffering, for all of his impact, he will be recognised for, inter alia, hos admission of failure of the UN system in two of the global community’s most damning conflicts. As stated by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN’s memorial for the former, now late, SG,:
“Kofi Annan faced up to the grave errors made by the United Nations in the 1990s – in its response to the Rwanda Genocide and the Srebrenica killings – by shining a light inside the UN. The reports he commissioned aimed to make sure such terrible mistakes are never repeated, and set the international community on a new course in its response to mass atrocities.”
It is this show of weakness, not only strength, that will be a powerful, critical part of SG Annan’s legacy, the lessons he left behind, the immediate turn-up of the volume button that he not just inspired, but impatiently provoked, in others across the UN system, if not world.
And then, one week later, with the Gods of global guardianship unsure of how sustainably the world had learnt its lesson, word comes of the passing of US Senator John McCain. And again, the tears flowed. For many, they were for the departing of a man defined as a ‘hero’, a ‘maverick’, a ‘true patriot’, a ‘true American’. For millions others, across the US and world, tears fell for the departing of a symbol of genuine, determined, unselfish, often inexplicable desire, often defiant desire, to simply do the right thing. Ironically, as people processed how determination to do the right thing, despite the violence he faced personally, professionally and politically, it put a floodlight on the ease and unacceptable emphasis today to do the wrong thing – to fight for self and agenda rather than serve for all.
From the first moments of news breaking of John McCain’s having left us, for him the bells tolled. And towards him the words of praise flowed.
Interestingly at times, at almost all times, it felt as though people writing of him – politicians, personalities, everyday people – were channeling their inner Aaron Sorkin, their personal feelings of sadness and loss of idealism and realism, for whatever reason, unlocking the intense hope that existed for a return to same. An idealism and united patriotism now so deeply buried, yet in this moment they felt safety in their hearts and in their voices to express.David Axelrod, one of the US’s most refreshing and righting sources of wisdom said it perfectly when, in advance of John McCain’s funeral just yesterday, stated,:
“What strikes me about this is Senator McCain didn’t orchestrate a tribute to himself. He orchestrated a civic communion where we took it to revisit principles of who we are as a country, what politics should be about. The fact President Obama is speaking and President Bush is speaking, two vanquished opponents, but respectful opponents is enormously important, at this time in our country, when politics is so angry and polarized, to see former opponents, people of different parties stand-up and pay tribute to each other, I think is not about John McCain, it’s about what he believed about our country and so I’m looking forward to both presidents.”
And as stated by President Obama at his funeral,:
” After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience. And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground.”
To continue to quote others in their salutes to John McCain would be an exhaustive, and unfair, exercise. These are not moments of competition, or comparison. They are moments of honouring, and honour.
As with the passing of Kofi Annan, trying to find words to say goodbye, and thank you, inspired people to dig deep, calling upon their better angels with a plea to be able to honour the moment, the man. And in doing so, for both, words evolved to become a global cry asking, demanding, we do more as citizens, as human beings, as people who have the ability to work for something bigger than ourselves.
With the passing of Kofi Annan and John McCain, the echo, the hope, is the same: that they leave in our hearts, minds, and actions a clear understanding that each day, each and every day, we are called and able to serve, we remember: it’s not about us.
And so in this moment, at a time when the world also lost one of is greatest songbirds, to both great men (and the songbird herself), I say a little prayer for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtBbyglq37E
Rest well, gentlemen. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2018