My husband knows me too well. Starting Thursday, I’m off to spend four days at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) conference, and it will be the first time I’ll pitch my current book to literary agents and publishing editors. Francis thought to himself, ‘hmmm, what could I get her as a good luck present, something she could wear or keep close to her at the conference?’ And he picked the absolute most perfect thing: a 46664 wristband.
Most people will think, ‘what the heck is that?’ But my husband, he knows these things. He is well aware of my admiration for the man associated with that number, of how I draw inspiration from that man’s persistence, resilience and commitment. You see, 46664 comes from the prison number given to Nelson Mandela when he was incarcerated at Robben Island for the start of his 27-year term—prisoner number 466 of 1964.
Today also happens to be Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, and Mandela Day, as declared by the United Nations in 2009. The campaign message says “Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes…We would be honored if such a day can serve to bring together people around the world to fight poverty and promote peace and reconciliation…” To help us all get started, here are 67 ways to promote peace and change the world.
And since this post is all about integers, there’s another special thing about the number 94: it’s the year Mandela was elected President in South Africa’s first democratic election. In other words, it was the first time that black South Africans were ever given the right to vote.
I was there that year, living in Johannesburg, working in some of the squatter camps that had sprouted up south of the city and serving as an observer for the Electoral Commission. I recall the extreme tension and fighting before the election—right-wing AWB bombs and Zulu marches. I vividly remember the emotional impact that the voting process had on people, like the octogenarian who was so simultaneously frightened and exhilarated to be doing what he was doing that he wet himself in the voting booth. Best of all, I can still hear the joy and celebration from the days after the election in my head, even now.
Nelson Mandela, the 1994 elections and the mission of Mandela Day—they all ignite my passion, perseverance and commitment in a very tangible way, because I’ve witnessed what people can do, what they can make happen against some very gigantic odds. I’ll be wearing my 46664 wristband at the PNWA conference this weekend, and it will be just the reminder I need when I’m about to step up to an agent’s table at a pitch session. Actually, it’s a double reminder: I’ll be thinking of Nelson, and I’ll be thinking of my husband, or, as he likes to call himself, the other guy in my life.