Muhammed Ali, photo Ira Rosenberg [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
In the funeral service for Muhammad Ali, friend and former President Bill Clinton spoke with conviction about this.
“Ali decided when he was very young to write his own life story … The choices he made (are what) has brought us here.”
He was a man of colour who grew up through the era of the Civil Rights Movement. He lived in circumstance others considered “poor”. But he was rich in resolve to be a winner.
As an activist he repeatedly provoked controversy. People quickly polarized around what he did inside and outside the boxing ring. There was his conversion to Islam, the change to use his “slave name”, his expressions of racial pride and the way he spoke out against white domination. There was also his choice to be a conscientious objector instead of being drafted in the Vietnam War.
Ali refused to become a victim. He showed how to live with the consequences of what he believed however tough those consequences might be in the first part of his life.
Clinton focused, then, on the midway time when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome – “a disease that kept him hamstrung longer then Nelson Mandela was kept in prison in South Africa.” That’s when he knew he could never be in control of his life.
But because he was a man of faith, that faith allowed him the freedom to make choices about how he lived. He recognized and celebrated the gifts of heart and mind that helped him express that freedom.
After naming the choices Muhammad Ali drew on every day, Clinton addressed us. “Ali perfected gifts we all have!” We need never be disempowered when it comes to writing our own story. We can each make the best use of our gifts of heart and mind.