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This year... we lost the light of two great men

CHRISTMAS and New Year is a time when we celebrate simplicity and redemption. This year, two leading lights of the world were quenched.

In the autumn, we lost Seamus Heaney and, in the winter, Nelson Mandela also moved on. Both men were exemplars and champions of truth, though the greatness of each was cloaked by modesty and integrity.

Unsurprisingly, their passing was marked more by a celebration of their accomplishments than by mourning. We lost something, but because their sum was greater than their parts, they left us the richer for their being.

Heaney wrote that: "I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original centre." What a lovely thought; we all flow and are carried from and to a source.

To him, the world was a celebration of the processes of life. Every battle for understanding and enlightenment was worth the fight and, like Mandela, he had many victories. Like Madiba, Heaney understood that insight knows no limits. Also, like South Africa's most famous son, he did not set much store by boundaries.

Mandela, too, was indifferent to high praise. He scoffed at notions of sainthood, insisting he was an ordinary man who sinned.

Mandela was adamant that: "It is amazing how many things are impossible until they are done."


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