What an incredible joy to celebrate your 90th birthday! Your blessing in my life and in our world is impossible to describe, but I’ll share just a few words of deep appreciation for the unspeakable joy of your being my friend, my mentor, and my father. You are with me daily as a role model of all that is possible for us as human beings if we have the humility and grace to share our vulnerability and believe in our power to change the world, one word, one step, one laugh, and one embrace at a time. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to be the midwife of your words and the porter for your literary legacy as you have climbed to the mountain top and preached your sermon of joy and justice, unity, and compassion. I hear your giggling, cackling belly laugh that seems to rise up the flagpole of delight echoing in my soul.
There are so many stories that live in my heart, from our first hug in Boston when Lynn reminded me in the letter she sent to arrive after her death that I asked you “what was in your heart to say” to your giving Eucharist to the Dalai Lama, saying God will decide who comes to his table, to the loving spiritual counsel you gave me just this summer as we commiserated about the heart-rending double pain when our children suffer. But the story that stands out most was during your 75th birthday at St. Mary’s Cathedral when you wept in front of the congregation, speechless and astonished when witnessing the life you had lived and the improbable journey from what you called a “township urchin” to Laureate, Archbishop, healer of a nation, and a man so loved by his family, friends, country, and world.
Beloved Mama got out of her pew and with her painful knees and great love hobbled up into the pulpit to hold you. You wept in her arms as the Church burst into song, singing their love for you and lifting you up, musical ubuntu, holding you as you had held them. When you were done with your tears, Mama left the pulpit and you gave a brilliant sermon about the long journey to end Apartheid. That moment captures for me the most extraordinary example of true moral leadership from the heart of our humanity—one that acknowledges our vulnerability, our brokenness, the fact that our need for one another is not weakness but strength. You are the most extraordinary example of what is possible for we human beings, we god-carriers, we Children of God if we are willing to open our minds and our hearts and our souls, and to live a life that is ennobled by our laughter and baptized by our tears.
I love you, Father, you are with us always.