There must be millions of us for whom Vaclav Havel looms large and bright.
A brilliant Czechoslovakian writer who produced more than 20 plays, six collections of poetry, books of fiction and non-fiction and hundreds of essays, he used the power of words to change the world.
He helped write the definitive Charter 77 document, which criticized the communist government for failing to include human rights language in its official documents as well as denying basic human rights in its practices. All those involved with Charter 77 were severely punished.
Havel lost his job as a playwright and was forced to work in a brewery.
He was repeatedly imprisoned. His longest prison stay, June 1979 – January 1984, is documented in his book "Letters to Olga," his late wife.
When he wasn’t behind bars, he was under government surveillance.
Although his plays were performed throughout the world to great acclaim, they were banned in Czechoslovakia and he was not allowed to leave the country.
In 1989, the Velvet Revolution swept Vaclav Havel into the presidency. He served Czechoslovakia from 1989 – 1992, when the nation split into the Republic of Czech and Slovakia. He then served as the president of the Czech Republic from 1993 – 2003.
And during all those heady, world-leader years, his moral core, his personal integrity remained intact.
A humble intellectual who loved music and talking with people, who wore black t-shirts and jeans in the Presidential Palace and whose sense of humor lightened many a dark day, he never succumbed to the soul-corroding poisons of power, prestige and personal wealth.
As someone said, "Integrity like his is rare among artists and almost impossible for politicians." And yet Vaclav Havel, this humble, slightly built man with a shock of unruly hair and eyes that twinkled under heavy lids, embodied that pure and powerful integrity.
He also embodied an impish sense of humor. As president, he signed letters with a green pen for his signature, and used a red pen to draw a little heart beside his name.
When I learned of his death Sunday, at the age of 75, I went to my files and pulled out an essay of his that I’ve had since it was published in 1993, and re-read it. It’s entitled "Never hope against hope."
In his inimitable style he describes a frightening yet humorous event when he fell into a sewer and scores of people tried in clumsy Keystone Cop fashion to rescue him.
He was rescued and two months later became president of the nation.
He uses this experience to explore ideas of hope and hopelessness.
"What was striking about the sewer experience was how hope had emerged from hopelessness, from absurdity," he wrote.
Describing hope as an orientation of the spirit, he says it is vital, and ends his brief essay with "…life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope."
When was the last time you heard a world leader speak such inspiring words and imbue them with power through the example of his own life?
Those who knew him personally say his motto was "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate."
When was the last time you heard a politician talk like that without a hint of sarcasm? Is it any wonder why this man, this writer, this world leader is such a towering hero?
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, said of him, "He told the truth to people who had only heard lies."
And he lived the truth of his ideals.
His funeral is scheduled for Friday (Dec. 23, 2011).
As a small tribute to this inspirational man, I am making my amazon.com essay "Living the Velvet Revolution" free for anyone who wants it all day Thursday, Dec. 22.
Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005EIBNFE
Feel free to share this link with friends and others who might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the Velvet Revolution. And thank you.