Nelson Mandela Story of Forgiveness: Leave Your Prison Behind

The following is a true story about Nelson Mandela, as told by former US President Bill Clinton many times, such as in his July 2007 article in Vanity Fair titled, “A Man Called Hope:”

“That was pretty smart of you to have your jailers come to the Inauguration and all of that, but let me ask you something.” I said, “Didn't you really hate them for what they did?”

He said, “Oh, yeah, I hated them for a long time.”

He said, “I stayed alive on hate for 12 years. I broke rocks every day, and I stayed alive on hate.”

And he said, “They took a lot away from me. They took me away from my wife, and it subsequently destroyed my marriage. They took me away from seeing my children grow up. They abused me mentally and physically. And one day,” he said, “I realized they could take it all except my mind and my heart.”

He said, “Those things I would have to give to them, and I simply decided not to give them away.”

And so – so I said to him, I said, “Well, what about when you were getting out of prison?”

I said, “The day you got out of prison in 1990, it was Sunday morning, and I got my daughter up early in the morning, and I took her down to the kitchen, and I turned on the television, and she was just a little girl then, and I sat her up on the kitchen counter.

And I said, ‘Chelsea, I want you to watch this. This is one of the most important things you'll ever see in your life.' ”

And I said, “I watched you walk down that dirt road to freedom.” I said, “Now, when you were walking down there, and you realized how long you had been in their prison, didn't you hate them then? Didn't you feel some hatred?”

He said, “Yes, I did a little bit.” He said, “I felt that.” And he said, “Frankly, I was kind of afraid, too, because I hadn't been free in so long.”

But he said, “As I felt the anger rising up, I thought to myself, ‘They have already had you for 27 years. And if you keep hating them, they'll have you again.' And I said, ‘I want to be free. And so I let it go. I let it go.”

No matter who we are, where we come from, or how we've lived, we have three things in common:

A Beginning. A Middle. And an End.

It's called life – and it's also a story. Some of us have empowering stories that transform and guide us. Others have victim stories.

No matter what stories we have though, we've all been hurt. We've been hurt by those we love, those who anger or attack us, and even by strangers.

None of us get through life unscathed.

And unfortunately, most of us hold these experiences within us and allow them (subconsciously) to inform future reactions, beliefs, fears and limits to what we seek to achieve (or feel we can achieve).

We let them hold us back from experiencing all that life has to offer. The thing is, it's not anyone else's fault.

It's not your fault either.

This is just one more story… and it's the hardest thing for most people to change.

Now is the time to let go of the painful story you may be holding.

Now is the time to choose a new story of forgiveness.

This story is YOURS to mold and create as you choose. So…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver