Circle of life: A delicate dance of birth and death

Gary MacDougall
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December is a time of the year normally reserved for the celebration of birth and hope, at least for those of the Christian faith. This is the month Christians mark the birth of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings form the basis of their religion.

Believers, and non-believers for that matter, would do well to walk in his shoes. The world would certainly be a better place if everyone followed Jesus’ teachings.

So we spend the weeks leading up to Christmas talking about his special birth, a new beginning and a new hope. It’s all happiness and good cheer. Or that’s how it is supposed to be.

But the natural ebb and flow of life means that sometimes we need to deal with death at the same time as we deal with birth. It is part of the grand circle of life and needs to be celebrated as much as mourned or feared.

For death has no special season, it marches to its own beat. And death doesn’t discriminate; it comes to all people, in all walks of life.

It came recently to my mother, a humble woman who lived a good and full life in rural Prince Edward Island. It also came to Nelson Mandela of South Africa, a famous man but who in his own heart was also a humble person.

Mandela’s life inspired his country, his continent and, indeed, the world. My mother’s reach was much smaller in scale, but she inspired those who knew her, especially her family and community.

Nelson Mandela preached many of the same things Jesus did. If he were around when Jesus lived, perhaps Mandela would have been a disciple.

Whether you are mourning his death, or celebrating his life, you can’t help but be impressed by Mandela, what he stood for, his patience, and the length he was willing to go to succeed.

And the things he stood for were things Jesus also stood for — love, justice, forgiveness and freedom.

In his book, “Long Walk to Freedom”, Mandela said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Mandela would be the first to scoff at any comparison to Jesus or any other religious deity.

“I am not a saint, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying,” he once said.

But the fact he walked out of a prison cell and reached for an olive branch, rather than a weapon for vengeance, is remarkable. He was no god but he was an inspiring example of how we humans should try to act.

My mother and Nelson Mandela lived vastly different lives but death is the great equalizer. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, they both lived lives that had a purpose and they were loved.

Many people filled my mother’s beloved church in Tyne Valley for her funeral. Among them were her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But also in the crowd were two soon-to-be born great-grandchildren.

Christmas is nearing; a wondrous birth needs to be celebrated. And so does the circle of life, which carries with it the spirit of hope and Christianity.

- Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at; or

Organizations: The Guardian

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, South Africa, Tyne Valley

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