Sunday, January 30, 2011


It's funny how seemly disjointed things come together to give us a jolt of inspiration or renewal, or both; reminding us of something old and forgotten, of something we knew, or insight into something new. I finally watched the movie "Invictus," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. In my opinion, Clint Eastwood is one of the greatest directors, Morgan Freeman is about the best actor out there, and Matt Damon is no slouch. In the movie, Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandala just after he was elected President of South Africa. Mandala's big problem was how to unite his country and he chose the national Springbok Rugby team as a tool to do that, inspiring the team to come from a beaten down, unlikely winner to winning the world cup. It is a powerful movie.

Invictus means "undefeated" in Latin. It is also the name of a poem that inspired Nelson Mandala to stand and keep going while he was in prison, when all he wanted to do was lie down and stop. The poem was written by William Earnest Henley in 1875 just after his leg was amputated below the knee and he was at a low point in his life.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Henley's low point was the result of life's misfortune, tuberculosis. Mandala's low point extended over thirty years in prison, the result of injustice, apartheid and hate. Of the two, injustice would be harder to take and harder to forgive, yet Mandala used the poem to inspire him to forgive, to bring his nation, black and white, together. The poem and his life testify to the human will to rise up and defeat misfortune.
Perhaps that's the way we need to look at Egypt. After many years of injustice and oppression, and untold empty promises, Egypt is exploding into revolution. I'm glad that it is happening while the World Economic Forum is watching from Davos, Switzerland, where the top 2% wealthiest are. They announced yesterday that "unless the poor are not provided an opportunity for a bigger piece of the pie, there will be more uprisings like Egypt." I thought that was obvious. We can only hope that Egypt becomes a liberal, and peaceful, democracy. It may not.
The United States is going in the opposite direction, but as far as I can tell, the people don't know the way out. The ranks of the poor are increasing, not decreasing, mostly because of lowered wages, lack of jobs and a huge gap between the poor and the rich and low tax rates on the rich. The middle-class is disappearing. The top 2% wealthiest own 80% of the wealth. And budget cutting is being done on the backs of the poor, only to make them poorer with less and less means to bring them back. Revolution is coming. Who will win? A dictator or democracy? With the airwaves muddied and skewed to the Right by propaganda, I'm guessing a dictator. The rich will not give up that dime until their mansions are burned.
Oh well, I have my own problems. The other day I was talking to my daughter about an anxiety attack I had. She said, "Oh Pop, don't worry about getting old," among other advice. When did you become so wise, Pam? Invictus. A good poem.

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