Nelson Mandela was born on this day in 1918. Few people become the father of a nation.

He was imprisoned for 27 years beginning at age 45. Where most people would give up, he persevered.

Eventually he negotiated from prison with the presidents of his country. He later got their job.

Think about that the next time you have reason to complain about your boss. It puts things in perspective.

Bill Clinton on Nelson Mandela

Bill Clinton told a story in the introduction to Mandela's autobiography that reveals the character of the man, as well as the changes of in the world he helped create.

Bill Clinton wrote

A friend of mine once saw Mandela in a South African airport and told me this story. The president had noticed a lady who was walking with her daughter, a beautiful five- or six-year-old girl, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Mandela walked up to this little girl and leaned down and shook her and, and he said, "Do you know who I am?"

And the child smiled and said, "Yes, you are President Mandela."

Mandela said, "Yes, I am your president. And if you work very hard in school and you learn a lot and you are nice to everybody, you too could grow up to be President of South Africa."

President Bill Clinton
Harlem, New York
April 2013

Our world has a long way to go to achieve equality, but the story reveals a wonderful tapestry that may have been impossible without Mandela:

A black man, president of a nation recently governed by Apartheid, telling a white girl she could have his job. The story was told by a white former president in Harlem, whose wife, a few years later, almost became president.

In Mandela's Words

Before returning to Clinton and Mandela's conversation, here are some quotes of Mandela's to honor his memory and, I hope, inspire you on his centennial:

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

"Leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people."

Widely known for showing no hatred toward his captors after release, he did show hatred, just not toward people: "I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days."

"After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

"In my country we go to prison first and then become President."

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."

"I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."

"I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man."

"Unlike some politicians, I can admit to a mistake."

Mandela to Clinton:

Bill Clinton shared also what Mandela said to him,

When you're young and strong, you can stay alive on your hatred. And I did, for many years.

Clinton continued that one day after years of imprisonment, physical and emotional abuse, and separation from his family, Mandela also said,

I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart. They could not take those things. Those things I still had control over. And I decided not to give them away.

On another occasion, Bill Clinton asked Mandela,

Tell me the truth. When you were leaving prison after twenty-seven years and walking down that road to freedom, did you hate them all over again?

He replied,

Absolutely, I did because they'd imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn't get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry and afraid because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.

Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela.