A day of mourning, a day of celebration for Muhammad Ali
Sadness imbued the day’s proceedings as “The Greatest” was to laid to rest in a Louisville, Kentucky, cemetery. But by no means was that the sole emotion washing over the tens of thousands who trekked to Muhammad Ali’s hometown to pay respects to a giant of sport and activism and as an ambassador of peace and goodwill.
Ali died on June 3, 2016, but it became glaringly apparent, as word of his bodily expiration spread, that echoes of his still so very vibrant existence are being felt viscerally by citizens the world over. Perhaps a great many of them didn’t see his patented brand of showy pugilism in person but are feeling an injection of his spirit and soul within themselves.
In a world longing for role models, his stands on principle against a useless war, his willingness to sacrifice personal enrichment to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, because he was forced out of in-ring service, Ali stood and stands as a monument.
The Champ was to laid to rest in Cave Hill Cemetery after his body was driven in a limo procession from a funeral home. A funeral held in the Muslim tradition, which he adopted in the early ’60s, would be closed to the masses. A service, with dignitaries and statesmen and celebrities gathered to honor his massive impact on the planet, would have the KFC Yum! Center packed to the bursting point.
Coverage from the largest media outlets, CNN, ESPN, foreign platforms, showed images of the limo procession and the citizens gathered to salute a man who cannot be replicated. This certainty is so because he was comprised of athletic skills, showmanship, oratorical flair and willingness to pay mightily to stand up to the establishment that had not paid enough respect to the concepts of decency, dignity and pacifism championed by The Greatest.
That familiar chant, “Ali! Ali! Ali!” was omnipresent as the limo parade made its way through his old neighborhood, past the Ali Center and his boyhood home, now a museum.
The TV coverage didn’t fall into total and complete hagiography; some of the brashness and desire to speak truth to power meant that Ali’s verbal taunts, for example, cut too close to the nerve of some of his in-ring foes. But it was made clear that this work-in-progress’ spiritual skills continued to grow in converse proportion to his athletic exploits. As time humbled Ali, and his physical condition deteriorated, the admiration for what he represented grew.
ESPN recognized that Ali is American royalty; they had activist Jesse Jackson, who helped convey Ali’s worth as a civil rights agitator, joined with Larry Holmes, who had mixed feelings as he beat up his friend in 1980, on a Louisville set to illustrate the immensity of Ali’s heart-print on our world.
The nation’s history crept into minds of those lining the streets and attending the memorial and watching feeds of the sad and celebratory morning. The stain of slavery will never be erased and it is best left to African-Americans to vocalize what it meant and means to them to have had a spokesman like Ali to speak to and for them.
He comforted those directly afflicted by our nation’s shame and left voiceless because of their skin color, and therefore achieves something of a saintly status as a reward.
Some of the sadness, perhaps, stems from the comprehension that the Creator doesn’t fashion enough persons with the power to lift those needing that boost the most.
Ponder it much and you realize that the nation struggles collectively, emotionally, with some of the same issues Ali wrestled with publicly. Hopelessness, some stemming from a less-than-robust jobs picture, saps energy and smiles. Having had a black president hasn’t kept periodic instances of excessive brutality against black citizens from making the news and angering those with open eyes to the inroads still to be made.
But at least we were able to soak in the majesty of The Greatest. That is probably the takeaway he would want us to hold on to. And love one another, no matter our differences.
The Greatest couldn’t have said it better, Woodsy. No, wait…Yeah, he probably could have. And we’re perfectly fine with that.