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I learned a new word this week, walking through spring blossoms in our neighborhood: Heartprint.

Forsythia. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Forsythia at our apartment complex. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

It’s the name of a nearby day care center.

Have to admit, I’ve never thought of the compound as a word before.

But hearing the news that Nelson Mandela is back in hospital made my heart hurt.

I don’t want any pain for this man who has suffered so much for so many.

At 94, we expect most elders like Mandela to encounter health issues, yet we’ve become so accustomed to his strength that any trip to the emergency ward is cause for concern.

I was slightly amused that South African leaders would ask the world to pray for his recovery.

When would we have stopped praying for this modest leader, who has left his heartprint around the globe?

As a child, I was inspired by stories of his courage. Apartheid still gripped South Africa then, and my youth was filled with news of people being killed and tortured and imprisoned just because their skin color was different than mine.

I couldn’t imagine then — still can’t imagine — spending 27 years in prison, just for doing what’s right.

Nelson Mandela was a model for me and many of my generation, who were campaigning and protesting and writing for social justice.

Unlike Mandela, most of us were not arrested for it. I was never charged with treason for speaking against unjust laws and corruption. And I wouldn’t fear it, either, living in freedom in Canada and the United States.

Yet men like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi — both teaching non-violence in Africa — taught us that doing what is right is as necessary as breathing. I am forever grateful for their example.

I’m praying for Nelson Mandela, feeling his heartprint keenly today.