Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali

Once when asked the meaning of his name, he replied... " I am Muhammad Ali, ...  – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me.” 

These are the words of a man who knew himself in terms of what Life was calling him to be. This was a man who had a deep understanding of what his life should mean in a world that sought to mould him and his character in accordance with its own corrupted myopia. Muhammad Ali was the measure of what a man needed to be in his time.

Born into a world where Injustice created chaos through its double-edged fangs of bigotry and an unjust war, he became a chiseled warrior against every attempt to co-opt him and his many skills for what he rightly saw as a twin evil. His name was meaningful to him, and he would insist with his every breath that he be known as the beloved of God... As a man of Peace... As an angel of light ... As a warrior against every vile instinct that would rise to confront him. His was the indomitable spirit of the cause of Peace.

Muhammad Ali was characteristically uncompromising in his stand against the twin injustices that still persist as corrupting influences in our society and in our world even now. He did not bite his tongue when confronted with the blatant contradictions in a hypocritical society that lies about its real intentions abroad while oppressing those on whose brutalized backs it sought, and still seeks to build wealth for a privileged few at home. He stood against influences that we must to this day be vigilant and uncompromising against. Listen as our champion speaks to us in his own words:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

In these words we have the immortalization of a champion of Justice. Muhammad Ali was a true champion. He trained for, and rose to every adversary with the dynamic resilience of an indomitable spirit. Yes, he was the greatest boxing champion of all time, but not just that. He spoke of himself in terms of a certain greatness… A greatness that far transcended his prowess in the squared circle that was the boxing ring. The man had a sense of himself that made him a superior pugilist not just compared to the great boxers of his time, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, but in the greater circle which is Life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was deeply and meaningfully articulate when he said: “The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough.Ali was in this very sense a virtuous man. It was his perception that it is enough to be on the side of right that made him exceptional. When asked what lessons today’s athletes can learn from Ali’s life, his friend and confidant Jim Brown responded: “Money is not God, and human dignity is very important...". Yes, in our time, and in our society, we must continue to declare against the idea that money is God… That white is right… That bigotry is insurmountable… That one’s life should be defined by the status quo. Muhammad Ali’s life is a testament to the truth that one moral man in the midst of a multitude of compliant “tools” in an unjust system, is a majority in the sight of a just God.

Muhammad Ali will continue to live in our hearts, in our minds, and through our will to do what is right... no matter what the consequences. We will name ourselves and our children after him... And deservedly so. We will laugh at the expanse of his wit. We will celebrate the vastness of his humanity. We will affirm in our own experiences, the depth of his wisdom and the power of his courage.  We will clothe ourselves in his charismatic virtuousness.

On the third day of June 2016, the physical presence that we knew as the man Muhammad Ali expired. His now frail body could no more contain and express his essence. What we have however in the absence of his body, is the eternal legacy of a life that transcends every physical limit, and a spirit that emboldens us to rise up against every imposed social boundary, and expose their inherent contradictions. His love was unlimited in its expression and in its appeal. His embrace of the human family was universal. With open arms, and strengthened by all he had to face in this life, he invites us to be family… To be one… To be courageously just.

He showed us the path of Love through his wonderful example. We will always love him. His name is Muhammad Ali. It means Beloved of God. And we shall forever call him that whenever we speak of him. And we shall continue to speak of him until ...and beyond that day when the evils of our time are beaten into submission… “Whooped!” , that is.

In the meantime… “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”

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