He was like no one else we had ever known.
Brash, beautiful, full of optimism, and, we thought at the time, full of himself.
Go on; admit it. When Cassius Clay first appeared on the public stage with his proud, “I am the greatest” proclamation, didn’t you roll your eyes? Didn’t you dismiss him as egotistical, perhaps even narcissistic?
Yet, he was hard to dismiss.
And, as we came to see, he was right.
From his gold medal at the 1960 Olympics at age 18 …
… to his 1996 appearance to open the Games in Atlanta, he was just what he’d said he was: the greatest.
Muhammad Ali, aka Cassius Clay, came on the world’s stage at a time when an awful lot of folks needed to feel a bit of greatness. A bit of pride in who they were. A dose of confidence.
Cassius Clay, and then Muhammad Ali, showed them how.
And we did.
We cheered him on to his victories; and we rooted for him when he was down.
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact; it’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration; it’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.
During my recent drive to Ohio, I had the good fortune to be able to listen to the entire funeral for Muhammad Ali via my satellite radio. [learn_more caption=”I’ve collected the links for each of the 20 eulogies here. “]
The nine in bold are representatives of various religious traditions (yes, Senator Orin Hatch spoke as a Mormon, not a member of Congress).
1. Dr. Kevin Crosby, Protestant Minister
2. Senator Orin Hatch, representing Mormons
3. Rev Msgr Henry Kriegel, St. Patrick Catholic Church, Erie PA
4. Dr. Timothy Gianotti, Islamic scholar, University of Waterloo 3:40 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmM8F8XwAgQ
5. Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor Tikkun magazine
6. Chief Sidney Hill, Native American activist and Chief Oren Lyons 8:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdLzviYQh70
7. Rabbi Joe Rapport – Reform Rabbi from Louisville
8. Venerable Utsumi and Sister Denise – Buddhists
9. Ambassador Attallah Shabazz, eldest daughter of Malcom X 10:56 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeqYfHmFFCc
10. Valerie Jarrett, reading a statement from President Obama
11. Lonnie Ali, wife 14:09 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1gBM8GSFsQ “America must never forget that when a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, miracles can happen.”
12. Daughter Maryum Ali 4:01 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnMkCctegFE
13. Daughter Rasheda Ali-Walsh
14. Daughter Alessandra “Ali” DiNicola, born on his birthday
15. Natasha Mundkur, a student at the U of Louisville 5:30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1gBM8GSFsQ
16. John Ramsey 8:41 http://www.cardchronicle.com/2016/6/10/11907564/watch-john-ramseys-eulogy-for-muhammad-ali
17. Billy Crystal 14:17 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIewctWKr04
18. Bryant Gumbel 8:58 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7QB1hXKWW8
19. President Bill Clinton 11:02 min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yVTtiPjkEc
20. Imam Zaid Shakir, Islamic prayer California imam and scholar
I highly recommend Billy Crystal’s (#17). Then, follow that with the video he referred to in his remarks, “15 Rounds.” …
… which segues us into Ali’s life, his ability to declare, unabashedly, “I am the greatest.”
(shades of the “Fake it ’till you make it” here, yes?)
Our culture admires sacrifice, selflessness, humility. I admire them too. And I imagine you do also.
But I think it’s important to remember the value of personal pride, the necessity of believing in yourself, and the utility of needing to put yourself first.
Sometimes we are in such a hurry to take care of others, we ignore ourselves.
The classic example of those oxygen masks descending in the airplane is a good one. You’ll be much more help to those around you if you remember to put yours on first.
Putting ourselves first has its place. Celebrating our accomplishments with pride, tooting our horn, is a gift not to be ignored. And there is joy in the sharing of that celebration.
An eighteen-year old young man taught us that, then showed us how to do it for the rest of his life.
What’s the last accomplishment you celebrated? Does one come quickly to mind? I hope you’ll share it here.