“I am the greatest!”



Muhammad Ali, 1942-2016                                                               With thanks to telegraph.co.uk for the image.


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  …


Thanks to sportscollectorsdaily.com for the image.
Thanks to sportscollectorsdaily.com for the image.

… to his 1996 appearance to open the Games in Atlanta, he was just what he’d said he was: the greatest. 


Muhammad Ali Lights the Olympic Cauldron_thumbnail


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.

Thanks to quotesgram.com for the image
Thanks to quotesgram.com for the image

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.


Thanks to jenthephoenix.com for the image.


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. 


18 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Some first thoughts in answer to your question: Soon to celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary, soon to return to memoir-writing after the Big Move. And the accomplishment I most crave at the moment: a buyer for our current home, and being totally moved in to the new nest.

    I admire all the research you put into each post and I sense you enjoy it. 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Marian. I hadn’t actually thought about how MUCH I enjoy these weekly posts. Thanks for that. And good luck with the house sale; you know I know what you are going through. Looks like no one wants a log house at the beach these days. 🙁

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      And Happy Anniversary, to you and Cliff.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Hi Janet, I agree with Marian that you seem to really enjoy writing these posts. 🙂

    They are their own women, so I don’t know if I should claim them as an accomplishment, but I think my daughters are my best accomplishment. They are caring, talented, and amazing women.

    Of course, I feel a sense of accomplishment with each book I’ve published. More recently, some of the poems I’ve written, I’ve felt very good about–a definite sense of accomplishment.

    There’s also the mundane–crossing items off a daily checklist gives me a big sense of accomplishment! 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril. I’m realizing the sense of joy I feel with these posts has to do with how they connect me to folks like you, readers who let me know how the post has affected them. That’s exhilarating. AND, I too take joy in seeing a lengthy TO DO list all checked off. Most times, it takes me longer than I expected, but nevertheless, there’s a bit of exhilaration in that accomplishment too. It’s a buzz. Thanks for dropping in. One of these days I’m going to take the poetic plunge and try my hand … You are my muse.

      • Merril Smith
        | Reply

        Thanks, Janet.
        Try doing some of Jane Dougherty’s poetry challenges. I’ve learned so much from doing them.

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Oh, I think not. That would be too much pressure. It’s just that I sometimes hear parts of my posts coming out in a rhythm. I just don’t do anything with that. I shall though. Some day. 🙂

  3. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    You always get me thinking, Janet! As I approach, my 70th birthday, I am filled with gratitude for all the second chances I’ve had to live a good life. Just being here is an accomplishment. Of course, my children, my book, my nursing career all give me a sense of accomplishment too. Focusing on what we have certainly helps nurture gratitude. I agree with Marian and Merril. Your posts are meticulously researched and I appreciate all you offer. I too sense you enjoy it. Write on, my friend! Yes, Mohammad Ali turned out to be a stellar role model.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Kathy. I can still sense the excitement he brought to the airwaves. Electric, comes to mind (after a very heavy thunder and lightening storm last night). He cracked right through and jolted us awake. And it was never like “bragging;” it was more just a statement of fact. “This IS the way it is; not my doing.” He made me smile. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?

  4. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Never mind what his name was, he WAS the greatest and a very special human being as well. He lived a good life, with good attitudes to others, giving respect where it was due and, as a result, earning respect himself, as witness the number of people who turned out to say farewell to him. It’ll be a long time before we see his equal, either as a sportsman or as a person. God rest his soul and thanks for showing the world the qualities of true greatness.
    So he bragged a bit, but so what, he was right dammit. He WAS the greatest!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I always imagined he’d be fun to be around; don’t you think Ian? Certainly someone we’d not have to parse our words with, huh? He could take care of himself. I find I value that more and more as I get older.

      I encourage you (and everyone) to listen to the two Billy Crystal videos. They are worth every minute.

      Now I’m off for the rest of the day to buy Woody a new computer. It’s a 3 1/2 hour drive to the nearest Apple store, in New Hampshire. One of the downsides of living in the hills.

      Be back tomorrow.

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — “15 Rounds” was an EXCELLENT video clip! Thank you for sharing it here.

  6. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    I love this!

    “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.”

    As writers and creatives we need for this be part of our inner creative wisdom.

    Thanks once again for a fantastic post!


    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You are welcome. Thanks for stopping by. “Impossible is … an opinion.” I love that, too. Reminds me of the Pogo caption, “We are surrounded by overwhelming opportunities.”

  7. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    “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.”

    An excellent summation, I’d say ^^. I’ll admit, as a white kid growing up in the rural rust belt of the 1970’s, I was put off by Ali’s braggadocio and showmanship. It flew in the face of all the blue-collar, Old Testment, midwestern humble pie that I was weaned on (which, I see now, was precisely the point). Anyway, It took some time, experience, and perspective to begin realizing that what you wrote above was true. Nice post 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks so much, Tim. Welcome back.

      Do you know of Tim Urban’s “Wait But Why” blog? I think you’d enjoy him. I’ve got a link on the right sidebar here.

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