Many Rivers to Cross…to Freedom
I’m probably breaking some “blogger rule” by posting so late…o well. On and off for about a month Jimmy Cliff has been on my mind. I don’t know why but I’m not complaining. The song that stands out the most to me is “Many Rivers to Cross.” Written in 1969 it was included on the classic “The Harder They Come” soundtrack and has been covered by many; it is a timeless song. The version or image that always comes to mind when I think of this song is of Jimmy Cliff performing it at the (Jamaica) National Stadium during Nelson Mandela’s 1991 visit to Jamaica. I can always see him belting the song out in front of the buzzing crowd that had gathered to honour Mandela, who had only recently been released from Robin Island. Sometimes the image is so vivid I wonder whether I have created it myself…it shocks me (a little) that it’s so indelible. At the time I remember feeling proud that Mandela, obviously a great man would choose Jamaica as a stop on his jubilant world tour. Whew.
Always gives me chills from the first organ chord…by the time he belts the first note and gets into it I’m all caught up and sometimes shaking a little. Today is actually Freedom Day in South Africa, a day for citizens to specially remember the first post-apartheid elections held in 1994. Voting lasted for 4 days (April 26 – 29) and approximately 22.7 million people voted. I remember those images too, of thousands of black people lined up patiently waiting to vote for the first time in their lives. Only 18 years ago…not that long ago. It would do us good to remember…especially in these times when we’re being constantly reminded (or perhaps, for some, it is only reaffirmation or even “I told you so”) that race still “matters.” But I digress. Wait, there is also the reminder of what courage and conviction really means as well as a reminder of what a good leader is and does…also a timely and necessary reminder. Good, a positive reminder…it really is too late to get het up.
I consider “Many Rivers” a testimony, and though it is about struggle and is part lament and part plea, it is not weak. And then, juxtaposed against the story of Nelson Mandela’s life an example of the triumph of the will that’s the fuel for survival is clear.
So I guess for me it is also a song of hope.