UNITED NATIONS — As the United Nations celebrated an ailing Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday Thursday, former President Bill Clinton recalled the day Mandela walked out of prison at last. Years later Clinton asked Mandela if he allowed himself to hate his captors.
For a brief moment, the man who became a symbol of peace gave in to hate, he told Clinton. Then he let go.
"He said `People can take everything. I lost my family, the chance to see my children grow up, the best years of my life. They can take everything except your mind and your heart, those things I decided not to give away," Clinton said. "He looked at me and smiled and he said, `Neither should you.'"
The lesson, Clinton said, was simple.
"You can't free anybody else, and you can't serve anybody else, unless first you free yourself from bitterness and hatred and resentment, and the paralysis they bring," he said. "Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years a greater man than when he went in."
As the United Nations declared July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day, Mandela remained hospitalized, though he showed some signs of progress Thursday, after weeks of worrying that he was on the verge of death.
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said it was no accident that South Africa's apartheid regime crumbled during Mandela's long struggle.
"Social transformation is an intentional act," he said. Mandela inspired "millions of people on the continent and around the world who somehow believed midnight would not last forever. So we fought."
Jackson urged all to remember that before Mandela became South Africa's first black president, he was a freedom fighter whose determination never waned while he lived in a tiny prison cell.
"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here today, but will never forget the living witness of Nelson Mandela," Jackson said. "Because of Madiba, standing on his shoulders we are a bit taller, sharing his vision we see a bit further, because of his sacrifice we are made better. He is a giant among men."
Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil said nations must do more than simply look back on Mandela's life on his birthday.
"Recognizing the legacy of Mandela is not possible without complementing Mandela's vision with actions," he said. "As Nelson Mandela once said, `Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day-dreaming, but vision with action can change the world."