One of the most spiritually accomplished human beings of our age has passed away. I feel so blessed and honored to have met Archbishop Desmond Tutu briefly at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis some twenty years ago. The Archbishop was Anglican, the parent organization across the pond of the Episcopal Church. Desmond Tutu was the first Black Bishop of Johannesburg, South Africa in 1975 during apartheid. In 1984, he won the Nobel Peace Prize recognizing his work for justice in his home country. Then he was the first Black African Archbishop of Cape Town 1986–1996. He was instrumental in ending his country’s apartheid peacefully and healing the country with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Desmond Tutu was a holy man, a beacon of light and shining example. The wattage of his glow was intense. The Archbishop had a great sense of humor and was constantly making jokes. Outside his role as a spiritual leader, he had a balanced life. As an Anglican priest, he could marry. He and his wife of 66 years, Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, had 4 children together. Yet outside his home life, he was a world political and spiritual leader. Could I have really met him?
My memory is of hearing him preach a sermon about human rights in South Africa in the late 1980s or early 1990s at the church I attended every weekend with my family in my youth and childhood. I was inspired by his message of social justice and peace. After the church service, my mother took me by the hand and asked if I wanted to meet him. I looked at her in surprise and nodded. We stood in the reception line near the main entrance where he greeted parishioners. His shirt and skull cap were violet purple, as befitted his office as Archbishop. When we finally stood in front of him, he said hello and my mother’s name. I was floored. My mother introduced me to him and he shook my hand in his small, gentle hand. He was a powerful presence, so I was surprised at his diminutive stature. He was 5″5″ (165 cm). If I were to recreate the words we exchanged, I think I said that I admired his work, but I could have just as well been mute in the presence of greatness and simply said a bland, “Nice to meet you.” Then it was time for the next person to speak with him. As we walked away, I asked my mom how he knew her name. She shrugged humbly, “I was on the church committee that brought him here to preach at St. Mark’s.” I shook my head in wonder. Or, it was all a dream.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu did not accept second class status as a Black South African. He believed in equality for all races, genders and orientations. Over the decades, the Archbishop met with countless numbers of world leaders and used his voice to bring justice and reconciliation in South Africa and abroad. His meaningful life shows how, with sufficient love one person has the power to transform a country and influence the world.
I admire his life’s work. If my words here at Fake Flamenco could create connections and forge cultural bridges internationally, that would be my aspiration, to follow his inspiration.
Who do you admire? What lessons have you learned from their life?