Muhammad Ali — how to live a life

Synopsis: Muhammad Ali — how to live a life — finding your way in the world requires the ability to stand tall and speak your truth

muhammad aliThis image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c15435.

OK, so my addled little brain is likely going to butcher this Muhammad Ali story, but here goes.

My political leanings started out pretty conservative, but in 1966, things shifted. One change was opening my eyes to the stupidity of the War in Viet Nam. No question, this was self-serving, as I was only a couple of years from draft age. But it made no sense.

Then, Muhammad Ali stated,

I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me nigger.
Muhammad Ali

At first, I wasn’t sure how this ought to play out. I’d also not been able to figure out his conversion to Islam. Remember, I was 15 at the time, had never met a Muslim, and up until then, most sports figures weren’t exactly known for their brains, politics, or religion.

I can remember thinking, “What’s up with that?’ or whatever the 60s equivalent was.

And I remember thinking the draft board would solve it quickly, so he could get back to the ring.

Nope. He was not allowed to fight from March 1967 to October 1970.


Anyway, in 1968 I went off to Elmhurst College, outside of Chicago. I’d swung even further to the Left after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, did my fair share of protests, etc. And kept hearing about Muhammad Ali — that he was out doing speeches, fighting the draft board.

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
Muhammad Ali

One evening I was sitting in the Student Union Building, smoking my pipe and reading. There was a small commotion at the door, and a group of people came up the stairs. Towering over all of them was Muhammad Ali.

One rumour was that he knew a female student, but more likely, he’d been brought in to do a speech. In any event, we ended up in the Cafeteria. He climbed onto a table, and he started talking.

I can’t remember a single thing he said, but I was unalterably changed by his speech. On a mundane level, I gave up thinking all boxers were dumb. The man riffed on the War, politics, race, religion. He peppered his speech with poems that were clever and to the point. And he did the whole thing in a way that was blunt, clear, and yet gentle.

As was his handshake.

That’s what I really remember. He was 10 inches taller than me, and had a hand the size, I thought, of a melon. When he shook my hand, it was a gentle squeeze. I made some inane comment about hoping he’d win in court and get back in the ring, and about how much I enjoyed his speech. “Thanks.” A wink. A smile.

So, that’s my Ali story.

But I was metaphorically in his corner for all of his fights, all of his comebacks, and then, reading and watching what I could after Parkinson’s had hold of him.

I mourned when he died.

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.
Muhammad Ali

What I really want to say is that the man stood his ground. Sure, he could come across as arrogant, but that just got the message across. He showed the world who he was, unapologetically, in an age when such behaviour from a black man was not acceptable to many in the States.

Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.
Muhammad Ali

He became a Muslim because his heart hurt, and devoted himself to his faith without being preachy, without being judgmental.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
Muhammad Ali

He fought political battles with the same grace and fluidity with which he boxed.

You lose nothing when fighting for a cause … In my mind the losers are those who don’t have a cause they care about.
Muhammad Ali

He showed all of us what it was to stand up tall (at least as tall as we could 😉 ‚) to take a stand, to not back down, to take a punch and get back up, and ultimately, how to age with grace, even when laid low by a disease that robbed of his voice and his fluidity of movement.

I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours;
my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.
Muhammad Ali

He taught us to hold firm to what we believe in, and to see that we can choose a path that actually matters.

Not a bad legacy.

I think of Ali a lot, standing on that table. And I remember the small grin, and the gentle squeeze from his massive hand.

Rest in peace. You earned it.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.