Dear Mpho Tutu,
I have so much to say to you, yet I realize now that I barely know anything about you.
The biggest thing I want to say to you is: thank you.
Though I still have much to learn about you, and though you have no idea who I am, you have inspired me in many ways.
I didn’t know you existed until almost exactly three years ago. I was on exchange at the University of Oslo, where you and your father came to hold a discussion on forgiveness, the topic of your (at the time) latest book together. The event was made free for university students, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to hear a Nobel Peace Prize winner speak.
Unfortunately, your father fell ill and couldn’t attend the discussion, but you did in no way leave us disappointed.
You taught us that day the power of forgiveness. You taught us that forgiveness can never be forced, not by anyone or any pressure. You taught us that forgiveness has to come from within, but that, if you could do that incredibly difficult work, it would be so, so rewarding. You taught us that the act of forgiveness is not for the sake of the perpetrator, but rather the health of the victim.
You told us a personal story about how someone working for you (was it a gardener?) killed someone very close to you (a housekeeper?). Though the details didn’t stick with me so clearly, I appreciated your openness. It struck me that you were a reverend, and that you could easily preach forgiveness through some bible passages, but you didn’t do that. You instead showed us that you are living proof of how hard yet important this lesson is to learn, and, by doing so, you made it accessible for all of us.
You also weren’t afraid to admit your father’s possible fault at stating that the people of Oslo “should” forgive the terrorist who attacked their home a few years back.
If I’m being honest, I must admit that I mostly forgot about that discussion, and you, until recently.
The other day I was watching a video of a holocaust survivor. This woman had lived through the experiments Mengele performed on twins in Auschwitz, and, somehow, she forgave him, though many other survivors disowned her for it. She didn’t do it for his spirit or for Nazis, but for herself. It gave her license as a victim and cleansed some of her darkness.
It reminded me of you, so I searched your name on the internet and was surprised at what I found.
In 2016, not long after I saw you in Oslo, you gave up your priesthood, a status your father had fought for the right of women to obtain, after marrying the woman that you love. Because you loved a woman, and you two should be allowed to be happy together.
Your bravery astounds me. You astound me.
Your father is one of the most famous living priests, and you gave up your priesthood in order to do something your church would not agree with. Because it made you happy. Astounding. There is so much power in that statement, so much purpose behind your actions. I believe an article claimed it took you by surprise too that you fell in love with a woman, but that’s what happened so this was all you could do.
So many people would not have had that bravery to stand up and declare their love. So many people would hide themselves for the sake of not causing problems; stay in your father’s shadow. But not you.
As a woman, I just really want to thank you for both lessons you have taught me. I can only hope to one day mimic the absolute bravery with which you live your life. I hope that your life is full of joy, and that you continue to live it exactly as you wish.