Last night a hero of mine died.
This morning I posted on my Twitter feed that "The thing for me that made Ali "The Greatest" was that he made society uncomfortably confront itself".
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I can not think of a single individual who influenced and shaped my view of the world as much as Muhammad Ali did. I always marveled (and do today, reading news accounts and public opinion pieces on his death) how one man, one name could cause so much deep, meaningful and insightful (both evil and uplifting) conversation about so many topics. Sports, Religion, War, Peace, Politics, Poverty, Racism, Love, Hate, Trust, Duty, Pride, Excellence, Humor, Beauty and Evil are among just a few over arching topics that were always present when his name was uttered "back in the day" and they will be re-discussed in the next few days and hopefully for some of our younger generation, discovered for the first time, due to his passing.
Who could then argue that for this fact alone, his was not a life well lived?
Without Ali, our generation may not have had the opportunity to more openly discuss, privately ponder and yes, find personal fault and guilt in things like:
Racism (How could such an accomplished man be black AND hold on to his black identity?)
The Israeli - Arab Problem (How could a "radical" 60s term Muslim and a Jewish lawyer turned sports caster, come to love and respect each other, so openly and publicly?)
Questioning war and the deaths of innocents in the name of the greater good (Was he a draft dodger or a courageous conscientious objector?)
Human Rights (Why are Africa, South American and SE Asia so poor? He tried to shine the spotlight on these regions by having some of his biggest fights there)
American Poverty and Ways to Fix It (How did a poor, black kid from Louisville, Ky become the most recognized person on the planet and yet millions of others don't make it out of poverty in America?)
Defeat (The Champ didn't win every fight)
Aging (The Champ had to retire and later had Parkinson's)
Our Mortality (The Greatest died yesterday)
Sadly, though Muhammad Ali tried to shine a light on these topics, in some corners of the globe things are no better, BUT statistics show that since 1964, on average, things are better.
I always knew that Ali was one of my heroes. What I didn't realize until today, was how much he impacted my life. We never met. We never spoke. His public example was all I needed. Truth speaks so loud and so clearly. In addition, the reactions of my family, friends, neighbors and strangers to his behavior, his speeches and his name, always gave me an opportunity to learn more about them, but most importantly - to learn more about myself.
What an amazing person? Maybe, truly THE GREATEST of my lifetime.
Footnote: I realize that he was not a perfect man, but who among us is?
6 months ago