There is amazement and mockery about the deaf interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service who could not sign and who, today, said he was schizophrenic and had seen angels entering the stage where the key speakers gave their eulogies, alongside him.
It is a sad story that a man in need of help was put in a position that left him the subject of worldwide ridicule. A vulnerable man with the potential to explode because of mental pressure could have harmed presidents as well as himself through an apparent lack of care and security checking, but what he said under pressure from journalists was enlightening: he saw angels – but later said it could not have happened and just was a sign of his illness. I am not so sure.
A friend and neighbour of mine, a few years ago, succumbed suddenly to a serious debilitating disease, necessitating periodic hospitalisation and eventually full time care. I spent time with her as her condition deteriorated, and it was concerning to see her body decline while her mind, then, remained lucid. A highly intelligent, successful professional woman, gentle and pragmatic, and with no obvious interest in metaphysical matters, she talked to me about some of her experiences: how she saw the walls of her hospital room dissolve, how she saw fountains of water running down the walls, how she saw butterflies all around her, and so on. Doctors told her the disease caused these visions, but she said to me, very quietly, “you know the truth of what I saw, don’t you? You know I am not mad?” And I told her, “yes”. For I knew she had entered a new dimension where the solidity of our usual world of matter had dissolved into something new and beautiful, and something truly real.
If I had been in the stadium in Johannesburg two days ago and had seen angels enter, I would have been very happy. I am sure they were there, for angels are everywhere, but few people are able to see them consciously. It is sad that a man labelled as a schizophrenic and subject to merciless, crucifying judgment saw them and then was forced to deny it, but that is the way of the world today: anything surreal must be rejected.
Mandela’s deaf interpreter signed badly, on that memorable day, but his story deserves notice and respect, not mockery. The visions of the sensitive always are worth attention.