There are many meaningful quotes made by Desmond Tutu over the span of his extraordinary life.
One of my favourites is in fact not by him, but rather about him.
During one of their many public appearances together, where they would inevitably joke around and tease each other, the Dalai Lama told Tutu: “At the time of my death, I will remember you.”
Just to be clear, this is the head of one of the leading forms of Buddhism – a religion that many of the world’s main religions barely acknowledge, never mind respect, very publicly expressing fawning adoration for Tutu.
The video of that moment played in my head while I attended the small, intimate memorial held inside City Hall last week, because it exemplifies two of Tutu’s legacies that resonate with me the most.
The first was highlighted in a solemn moment; the interfaith part of the proceedings that saw tributes for Tutu from nine major religions including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and the African Traditional Religion.
It was the Khoisan prayer that hit me in the feels the most – a moment of devotion, partly sung with an accompanying drum beat – beautiful and striking in its simplicity.
Tutu’s deep respect for religions other than his own is of course legendary.
So it was a fitting homage to a man who believed that God didn’t belong solely to Christians and that Christianity isn’t the sole vehicle into heaven.
This was among several of his beliefs that were at odds with church doctrine, like his support for homosexuality and assisted suicide.
Topics that many find controversial, but were simply an invocation of his inclusive spirit that placed forgiveness, humility and humaneness above all else.
Archbishop to some, arch-nemesis to others, he fearlessly lived the courage of his convictions, seemingly with ease and with a magnetism as strong as the true north of his moral compass.
Such was his childlike charm and charisma, that even those who didn’t agree with him couldn’t help but like him. Even just a little.
Tutu’s second greatest impact on me is something that I will forever credit him with. He redefined the divine for me. The God of my youth was always a very serious deity, angry even.
I grew up with teachings of Him being a jealous god, to be feared and disobeyed on the punishment of eternal damnation.
It never occurred to me that He could have a sense of humour and that He could be represented by a playful preacher; an irreverent reverend; a cheerful, chuckling chaplain.
To me, Tutu was God’s giggling governor; a puerile pastor and yet the epitome of piety.
This was a watershed moment in the evolution of my faith. It truly brought to bear the gravity and true meaning of the creation story for me.
The creation had to be absolutely everything that involves the human condition.
And while that is a revolutionary thought that causes friction and division among certain practitioners of religion, it does make God a lot more accessible and identifiable for me.
And like the Dalai Lama, Tutu chose compassion, empathy, humour and cheerfulness as some of the characteristics to put on daily display.
Showing us a smiling, laughing God, who finds our jokes funny and has belly laughs at our silliness, was perhaps his stroke of inclusive genius.
The smile is after all universal. So it was perhaps divine providence that this icon of good will would shed his mortal coil on the Day of Goodwill.