Rediscovering Muhammad Ali … and, maybe, me

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I set out on a journey of love, seeking truth, peace and understanding. l am still learning.” –Muhammad Ali

Timing is everything, they say.

Sometimes, though, it’s the divine timing that catches us off guard, trips us up, turns things upside down…and changes the course of human events.

I was thinking of that on the day of the late Muhammad Ali’s funeral service June 10, 2016. I was thinking how this event – Ali’s death and the celebration of his 74 years on the planet – happened the week that Hillary Clinton became the first woman to become a presumptive nominee for president during one of the most contentious primary seasons ever. And it remains so.

I’d written some reflections in a previous blog about my uneasiness with the political campaign. People kept saying that earlier campaigns in our history were worse. I’m a contemporary of Muhammad Ali, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The week Ali died, I once again considered the arc of my life – and, obviously theirs – from the 1960s to now.

The decade of the 1960s seems to be getting a lot of play in the media this summer. I’ve previously reflected on some of the 50 or 60-year anniversary celebrations of historical events I’ve lived through…like the 1969 moon landing. Picture me, at age 26, standing in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot pushing my grocery cart under a clear blue, blistering 100-degree July day in Waco, Texas. (You truly could fry an egg on the sidewalk, I remember thinking). I stop to gaze up – awed at the fully visible moon…the soft white orb, floating like a ship at sea above. I’m marveling that there are men up there, at that moment, walking on it. I’m filled with hope and joy for the future.

That memory stays forever etched on my mind. It’s always amazing to think of that moment – way back then – to wonder how my mind and heart began to grasp the concept .. and the reality. There were other realities in that decade, though, that were monumental historically, while pulling back at hope for the future. Those moments are also engraved in our personal history; and their effects resound in the way we’ve looked through the lens of our lives.

My husband, a teacher, and I were in Texas for the summer, while he took classes at Baylor University. We’d been married two years earlier, in June of the ‘long hot summer’ of the 1967 Detroit riots, which began that July. In the ‘sixties’ (the decade of our 20s) we lived through the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. Those were tumultuous times. Vietnam War times.

I remember Ali as the amazing athlete, the charismatic celebrity…as the prize fighter Cassius Clay. But I’d forgotten about his own tumultuous decision to take a personal stand against the war.

His memorial was fascinating. It was especially fascinating to take note of the way in which he touched the lives of so many movers and shakers in the world.

A few days after Ali’s funeral, we woke up to the news of the mass shooting at the Pulse bar in Orlando. The motive, as the story began to unfold, appeared to be hate against the LGBT community. A newscaster that day spoke of 134 mass shootings just this year.

“Who are we as a people?” asked Florida Senator Bill Nelson on that day. This is the question I’m asking all the time now. “Who are we as a people?” Especially now, in this very heated political time. I’d love to talk about these things with someone. But who will discuss without their own agenda in the background? I’d love to talk about my inner struggle to make sense of things in 2016.

What kind of divine timing is it, when unbelievably tragic events keep occurring? In the midst of attempting to finally write this blog, more drama plays out on the American stage. July 7, the day of the intense congressional hearing with the FBI director regarding the Clinton email investigation, ends with sniper shootings of police officers in Dallas. My heart is thrown back to November 22, 1963 — reliving the horror of that day in Dallas when President Kennedy was gunned down. In 2016 the assassination of police officers unfolds in Dallas – four dead, then five (one a native of Michigan). It’s a chilling story. It’s particularly chilling because of the previous killings of blacks by police in Minnesota and Louisiana.

“We are better than this,” we tell ourselves. As I try to put my thoughts together to talk about Ali and hope, and complete a blog, it seems so many unimaginable events are converging in my mind this summer. The political firestorm over race, gender, inequality, religion, character issues of candidates is non-stop. Every day seems to bring a new storm.

When I began writing my thoughts after the Ali memorial a month ago, reflecting on divine timing, I was thinking of the life influence of a person like Ali on our culture. Might the timing of the passing of a great personality help bring some sanity to the world, to nudge us somehow toward our better angels? I wanted to say, yes I wanted to say, that I love it when events synchronize in a mysterious way that pulls at the heart of things, a synchronicity that might help induce a much-needed tipping point for making the world a better place.

Muhammad Ali’s wisdom, and the way he lived his life, is worthy of passing along. There is so much beyond the wonderful “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. An online feature from October 23, 2014 Beliefnet, came up when I was exploring about Ali.

Lessons From Muhammad Ali:

On occasion great people possess the powers to impact our lives on a level that we never imagined. These special individuals exude a presence that can be felt by those they come into direct contact with and others that hear their voice. Muhammad Ali is one of the those people who inspires, changes lives and offers wisdom. His fight goes beyond the ring – it’s a fight for life, a fight for equality and a fight to make a difference.

My thoughts about Muhammad Ali after his passing revolved around me discovering the impact of his life, the way he evolved on his spiritual journey, the ways he served humanity in his own authentic way. It occurred to me, that in discovering the lessons and his example, I might be discovering, or rediscovering, me.

Never one to stand on a soapbox (I’d much rather be reporting behind the scenes), I wondered if the wisdom of the prize fighter Ali, might apply to me. I wondered if I had the strength to mirror his courage, especially as he dealt with many years of Parkinson’s Disease, yet still growing as a person, and being a force for good.

The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is, said another wise man, Robert H. Schuller, who’s also no longer with us. I struggle with that struggle of the heart. When, I wonder, do we determine to have the courage not to be average?

My last blog apparently touched a nerve with someone concerning climate change. What a shock. My blog was more metaphorical, not insisting on climate change (even though I’ve been an advocate for taking care of the environment all my life). I hesitate to respond because I believe in honest discussion and reflection, and not the “I’m right and you’re wrong” kind of verbal warfare that, to my mind, is poisoning social media these days.

Witnessing the barrage of polarizing comments on social media throughout this election cycle breaks my heart. Not only that, all this takes up excess energy, without accomplishing anything. Whether religion or politics … when will we work toward harmony and peace? When will they ever learn?, sang Peter, Paul and Mary way back then. Honestly, I wonder, Where have all the flowers gone? I’m weary of polarization and vilification; I’m weary of wearing my heart at half-staff. Maybe it’s time to wear it on my sleeve.

So, when will I really be me? When will I be more like a Muhammad Ali? This Ali-ism hits home: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” How do I remove the pebble in my shoe?

How do I summon the courage to speak up, the stamina to walk my talk? For it does take stamina…and dogged persistence, perseverance, constant faith in the possibilities, and the confidence to forge the path and follow it. This is true, even in the family circle, let alone the wider world.

My husband and I were discussing the other day my reluctance to take on the matriarch role in my family. You know, the one who keeps family together and passes along the knowledge she’s gained to the next generation. I guess, in doing so, I’m admitting my mortality. My cousin, ten years my senior and whom we all relied on to keep track of people, sadly suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.

“You should be the guru,” he said. “Ha,” I laughed, and asked, “Do they have a pill for that?” I suppose not. I wish there were, though. Maybe I just need to walk by my fridge gallery and take a good look at the poster there. It’s a picture of the world from space…much as those first men on the moon had viewed it. I have it there to remind me of the affirmation written on it from Mohandas Gandhi: You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Muhammad Ali lived that more and more as he grew older, amazingly even more through his many years with Parkinson’s Disease. He said, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” I don’t want to waste any more years. I want us to be filled with joy and hope for the future.

Today Attorney General Loretta Lynch said what we’re all thinking during these divided times – that we need to “embrace a way forward together.” As peaceful protests continue, so far, in cities across the country, I hold out that hope. Timing is everything, they say. Maybe even in finishing a blog just as she speaks and adding my voice, my own words, and passing them along.

I set out on a journey of love, said Ali, seeking truth, peace and understanding. I am still learning.”

Links:

About the Detroit 1967 riots

Bees Swarm Muhammad Ali “Sting Like A Bee” Mural

UK Telegraph…Muhammad Ali fans prepare for final goodbye
Read more at Beliefnet

Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee…lessons from Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali inspiration gallery

Time Magazine: How trolls are ruining the Internet

 

 

About Susan Parcheta 98 Articles
Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.

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