Humble Pie

1984. Tasmania. Nelson Mandela’s fight for freedom had hit the music charts, and was likely blasting on the radio of the ‘Big Bus’ – the first of a three-bus-long journey to school.

At the age of seven, I wouldn’t have known what ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ meant. But I understood the principles of terror.

Early in the morning, we’d be trudging through a kilometre of frost to encounter the two frosty sisters from the dairy farm next door.

Possibly they were going to slice the fingers from my fingerless gloves, or drown me in the lake with the kittens. I don’t remember the specific threat, just that I was afraid. Very afraid.

And that was before Mr Sim’s coach thundered up, and I had to face the Big Kids at the back of the bus.

Bus old

“Whadda you lookin’ at?” they’d sneer, and tell me to piss off down the front, or else…

I could tell my two older siblings were also scared, or at least, they were too busy trying to fit in to come to my defence.

Until then, I’d always thought the big kids were supposed to protect the little ones.

It was a wide awakening…me, at night, trying to think of a solution to my woe.

Finally, I consulted Mum for advice. She, in turn, consulted the repository of all wisdom – Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories.

The next day I was sent to the bus stop with a brown paper bag full of blackberry pies.

As the sneering sisters turned on me, I held up my white flag.

“It’s for you…(Mum made them),” I mumbled, not daring to meet their gaze. I could feel my siblings’ mortified stupor cowering somewhere behind me.

The sisters took the offering, and inspected it for poison.

The moment their eyes grew wide, I knew it was a winner.

“But, why?” they breathed. I shrugged. “Thank you. That’s so nice…”


In my mind, they got on the bus and bragged to their friends about the pie they scored. But I’m not sure that really happened.

What I do know is we all knew that they knew they didn’t deserve it. And from that moment on, peace reigned at the bus stop.

When I think back on that memory now, it seems kind of quaint and embarrassingly naïve.  If that same thing happened today, would the bullies back down. Or would they kick you in the guts for trying to placate them?

I’m scared of the world we live in.

A world where leaders pay lip service to the greatness of a man who understood human rights as more than just a dusty document.

A world where leaders think that inventing the term ‘illegal refugee’ justifies the persecution of people fleeing from tyranny.

A world where freedom and democracy are rights of the first world to deny.

We preach the principles of ‘turn the other cheek’ – as long as it’s not ours.

But Mandela knew better. He didn’t turn the other cheek. He stood his ground. Held his enemies in a firm embrace.

Shamed them, with pure decency, and took a nation with him while he did.

Rugby Old

It takes a giant to do that.

My actions in 1984 were not noble, loving or even forgiving. It was self-preservation. Had they actually caused me harm, I’d have been blubbering behind a tree or quietly plotting their revenge. Not giving pie.

But the principle is the same. In both cases, peace was won because the people in the wrong had the graciousness to know when to back down.

Bob Geldof, in his tribute to Mandela, writes:

“…who could have imagined the humility, the dignity and forgiveness that Mandela displayed to his oppressors upon his final total success?

In private he pitied them. He knew precisely what he was doing. One visitor said: ‘Mr President you have given great dignity to the black people.’ Madiba replied instantly (and you can hear the inimitable cadence in his reply): ‘No, young man, you are wrong. I have given dignity to the white man. There is no dignity in the oppressor.'”

As a globe, do we have what it takes to honour his memory? Can we empathise with ‘the other’ enough to open our arms to their pain? Are we brave enough to eat the humble pie?


  1. says

    Wonderful wonderful story on so many levels Alarna…. your story of the bus was so moving, and as for that quote of Mandela, I wanted to dance and sing when I read it – what a man, what a soul… what a glorious human being.. XXX

  2. says

    This is so wonderful, Alarna. I wish I’d taken the time to know more about him, I mean, really know — going beyond the stories reported to us through the news. He is a symbol of peace and forgiveness. I like the blackberry pie story. I think your mom might be right up there with Nelson Mandela. 🙂

    • says

      I’ll have to ask my Mum if she remembers that story! To be honest, I never knew much about him, either – but the amazing thing is how far reaching his legacy is… in some ways, looking back over what he achieved from the perspective of now, it’s even more incredible 🙂

  3. says

    Interesting that Mandela and the new Pope are in the forefront of our minds this year. We could all use a dose of humility and decency by example, and it’s lovely to see those sentiments finally beginning to penetrate our collective consciousness.

  4. says

    As always your thoughts and stories are moving. Your mom’s advice is pretty amazing. I’m trying to imagine trying this pie scenario right now and it’s HARD. At first thought it seems “easy” but when I apply it to those that I’ve come across who have just been mean and ignorant…well, wow. There’s lots to think about here.

    • says

      Yes, it seems like a different time, place and world back when that happened. I couldn’t say I’d advocate for that kind of action now, which really does make you think. Then again, from what I’ve seen of your delicious homemade pies, I reckon they could stop a war 😉

  5. says

    Wow.. that’s an amazing story, your mother was wise. I definitely do not trend in the direction of responding in peace when people do me wrong… Though clearly that would often be a much more productive response. That was a charming and powerful story, and i loved the quote at the end.

    • says

      Thanks, Aussa. Peace is great, but I think there is a place for a more assertive stance, as well. Mandela seemed to have mastered the art of both, which makes him one incredible human being!

  6. says

    What an incredible, insightful Mom you had. What courage it took for you to follow through on her advice. Great tribute to Mandela but also you raise some interesting questions about man’s inhumanity to man or what it takes to be human. Beautiful story, Alarna.

    • says

      I don’t know if it was courage motivating me at the time! But I’m glad it turned out well, otherwise it would have been a very different kind of learning curve. If we had the chance, would any of us want to be a kid again, I wonder? 🙂

  7. says

    Brilliant story – and wise insight into how closely linked personal bullying is to large scale terror. I’d like to think that pie would placate bullies in any circumstances!

  8. says

    Amazing story Alarna. Your mum has a lot of wisdom. I’m scared too of the world we live in sometimes.
    What a great man Mandela was. I know I’m too naive but, sometimes, I do wish some politicians can take example of him.

  9. liz says

    What an incredible post, Alarna! Thank you for sharing and for spreading the hope for a world filled with justice, hope, and forgiveness. xx

  10. says

    I’ll remember the pie story and its tie to Nelson Mandela for a long time, Alarna.

    Your mother must have known those girls needed a home-baked treat and some mothering. She pitied them, didn’t she? Once we know we’re pitied, it’s hard to huff and puff in a believable way.

    There’s a lot of food for thought in those pies.

    • says

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Pat. I’ll be sure to pass your thoughts onto my mother. And while I’m at it, I will ask her what she knew of the girls down the road. There’s bound to be more to the story. xo

  11. says

    My God Alarna, Thank you for the greatest message we’ve gotten this season. Reminding us what the holiday is all about. What we should be thankful for. How we should act. And how blessed we are to have been privy & learn from one so great! As for you, my dear…such wisdom in one so young. And it leads me to believe, that you are a young, beautiful, writer with a wise, old soul. The perfect analogy. The perfect post. The perfect quote, The perfect message on this Christmas. For if we can’t at least hold onto the principles the man preached & lived, we will cease to grow as a people. There are but a few men & women, in this life that will leave perfect & glorious shadows casted on us as a world and people. This is one I hope stays with all of us & reminds us to do the right thing. Whether offering the pie; accepting it or baking it. Beautiful job, sharing now. And to you my dear, The Merriest of Christmas’

    • says

      And a wonderful Christmas to the both of you, Ginger and Natalie 🙂 You could say that was one of the defining moments for me, growing up. It’s funny to look back and think how tenuous some of those moments might actually have been. Not sure about wisdom – I was a young, frightened girl and still am in many ways! But we work with what we have. Mandela’s shadow is a great one, and his influence I’m sure will be felt for a long time to come. Let’s hope 🙂

  12. says

    Hi AIarna: This is a powerful piece!! I love your story and how you have tied it to Mandela. When I look at your story, I see great wisdom in your mother’s action. While, on the surface, it looks like you are placating the bullies, at a deeper level, it looks like you are speaking to their unspoken need for love. Kim

  13. says

    ahaha, you wrote a tribute to Mr. Nelson Mandela. so sweet, simple and right on… 🙂 been thinking of doing a post about his life and deeds as well but can’t get enough guts to do it yet, hoho.

    yes, it’s still a world run by bullies and not many choose the way to fight abuse and indignity… 🙂

    the blackberry pie looks delicious and your mom, so wise. ^^

    • says

      It’s an intimidating topic, that’s for sure. I made it personal because, really, what do I know about him? By far, not enough. And yet, somehow, he’s touched us all. I would send you some yummy pie if I could! 🙂

      • says

        ahaha, true. Mandela is a huge man. his nickname means “troublemaker.” btw, i have a borrowed copy of his autobio, The Long Walk to Freedom. i think i have not been able to finish it (there’s quite long recall about his tribal background, am bad). but i swear, i tried to finish reading it. i guess, i was not that familiar with African history at that time.

        curious you said that – that he touched us all. 🙂 btw, i read Alan Payton’s books much later, though and finished them, haha. i suppose, lives of struggles and hardships touch us in a significant, though undefinable way, ahaha. i’ll claim the blackberry pie when we meet, dear. who knows? 🙂

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