Belfast Telegraph

You've got to hand it to Nelson Mandela memorial sign language interpreter

By Nuala McKeever

This past week I've deliberately not watched or read too much about Nelson Mandela. I grieved him when he was ill a while back and so when he actually died, it was as if that was the second shoe dropping. The real sadness, for me, was felt when the realisation of his impending death hit home months ago.

Besides, I can't afford to be sittin' bawling my eyes out anymore than I usually do. There's work to do. A play to rehearse. Long hours to put in to make the whole thing look like a frothy confection of spontaneous ease. The real world will just have to wait.

But one aspect of the whole week of mourning made it through my trusty defences. The fake sign language interpreter.

During lunch breaks, I saw the news with the sound turned down, in the lunch room at the theatre. So I know what happened more or less but I didn't follow up the story to see exactly who or what he was or why he did such a weird thing. But that's not what I wanted to comment on anyway.

I know it wasn't a good thing for the deaf community of South Africa. I understand the upset of people around the world. But I have to say, part of me was kinda tickled by the whole cock-up.

The idea that in this uber-controlled world, where, we are led to believe, our every position, movement, communication, purchase and possibly even thought, is monitored by some superbeing, some "they" we can't even name in one word, there is still the potential for a ridiculous mistake like that to occur, cheered me up no end. I'm not talking about whether or not what he did was good or bad but rather the sheer fact that such an outlandish boo-boo could actually happen.

We're told online that there are 10 super-companies that sell us practically everything we use, from food and drink to cosmetics and household products. We're told we're number 17 in the queue when we ring up to speak to a bank or insurance company. We're told we can't affect the way things are because the 'moneymen' run everything and we're just tiny individuals.

And then one individual manages, somehow, to defy every expectation of how the world works in this hyper-efficient era, and present the worst piece of fakery right in front of billions of viewers around the world.

He may be a fraud or a swindler, but the fact it happened is rather delightful.

The structure is cracked. The Wizard is just a wee man behind the curtain. "They" are not an indomitable, eternal force. "They" are individual people who all get up in the morning and use the loo and put on deodorant and worry about being overweight or going bald or having bad breath or not being tall enough.

He may not have made sense of Obama's lofty words, but yer man in South Africa with the limited hand movements gave us all a very timely sign – one person can make a huge difference. One person is still the most common form of statue or tribute. One person is the historical icon, the game changer, the leader, the catalyst, the hero or heroine.

I reckon old Nelson might have got a kick out of the whole episode at his "do". He knew the power of one. He exemplifies the power of one. So when you're feeling small or resigned about your own impotence, remember that sometimes, all it takes is one.

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