Remembering Desmond Tutu and His Legacy of Listening

Remembering Desmond Tutu and His Legacy of Listening

What sadness we felt, this day after Christmas, when we read the news about today’s passing of South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

He is among our leading heroes, a man of great moral character, courage, compassion, humor, and joy. His legacy as a pastor, an anti-apartheid truth-teller, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and the chair of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission and his message of peaceful reconciliation and non-violence will endure long after we’re gone.

In response to Archbishop Tutu’s death, the Nelson Mandela Foundation declared, “His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies. He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

We fondly remember reading and re-reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, his 2015 account of the week he shared at the exile home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. We encourage everyone to read it.

In it, these two friends, closely bonded by shared hardships throughout their lives, mused on the immense transformative power of finding, receiving, and embracing joy.

In it, Archbishop Tutu declared,

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardships and heartbreaks. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”

“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of pure joy.”

“You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”

— Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

He reminded us that we are all masterpieces in the making. What an uplifting way to see one another and to celebrate our shared humanity, as he and the Dalai Lama celebrated theirs.  

In a public statement upon learning of his dear friend’s passing, the Dalia Lama proclaimed in a letter,

“He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights. I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others.”

— The Dali Lama, upon learning about Tutu’s death

Desmond Tutu’s life left a mark on each of us, a mark that uplifts, undergirds, and teaches us how to unconditionally listen and love. We give profound thanks for his life and for what it means to us.  

In gratitude, we leave you with these prophetic and aspirational words by the Archbishop:

“Justice, goodness, love, compassion must prevail. Freedom is breaking out.  Freedom is coming.”

— Desmond Tutu

Indeed, they must prevail. If they do, freedom will break out. Freedom from our prejudices, our wounds, our hatreds, our resentments, our insecurities. That freedom is coming.  

Thank you, Desmond Tutu, for living it and showing us how.  

If you’d like to read more of Desmond Tutu’s rich and insightful quotes, highlighting his distinguished and enduring legacy, we share these words from today’s The National.  We hope they move you as much as they move us.