I Met Muhammad Ali
I met Muhammad Ali.
Or rather, I had breakfast with him.
Or actually, he was in the same restaurant
where we were having breakfast
that muggy summer morning in 1991
at the Holiday Inn in Chicago next to the Lake,
the great Black man with the twinkling eyes.
I remember my Dad said,
I think that it’s him.
Sure looks like it him,
Could possibly be him, I said.
I remember watching him.
I remember how long it took for him to take a spoonful of cereal and bring it up to his mouth.
How a little blond boy came up to his side and asked him for his autograph.
How long it took him to take out his pen and write out his name.
I remember feeling sad for him and sad for me,
of what had become of Muhammad Ali.
I remember when I was 9.
When he came back to the ring.
How he’d had it all and lost it all – the title, the trophies, the power,
the respect so many years ago.
I remember wondering how you keep on going after so much losing.
I remember how he gave it all up for things people I knew didn’t like and didn’t understand –
A Conscientious Objector and a Muslim.
A Man who spoke his mind.
A Black Man who didn’t care about making anybody comfortable.
I remember knowing that we came from different worlds.
I remember recognizing that people that looked like him, behaved like him, could not live in my world.
I remember watching him with my Dad.
Cheering him on.
Wanting him to win.
Hoping that after losing the best years of his fight and his life in the game
that he could get at,
get back at,
that he could be the Champion again.
I remember when I was 13.
When he took on Frazier again.
The Thrilla in Manila that was no thrilla.
I remember it went on and on. Hours it seemed.
It hurt to watch.
I kept on watching.
I just wanted it to be over.
Watching him get pummeled.
I remember how tired he looked.
I remember watching it on the couch with my Dad.
I remember, the 13th round, Frazier’s coach leaning in close, keeping him down,
telling him to wait for the bell and not get up.
I remember hoping with my Dad.
I remember longing with my Dad that at last it could be over.
I remember yelling at the television, yelling at Frazier, please, please don’t get up.
I remember my Mom coming in to see what all the fuss was about.
I remember telling her to wait, we couldn’t explain now.
I remember waiting a long time.
I remember how tense I felt.
I remember at last the bell rang.
I remember the two embraced, collapsed into each other, barely able to stand.
I remember thinking this is a terrible sport, an awful sport.
I remember Ali’s weariness, no sputter or fight but the weariness in him.
I remember thinking his time is running out.
I remember Dad said he can’t keep going on forever.
Can’t keep fighting,
Can’t keep at it,
Can’t keep rising more,
I remember this as well.
I had to stop watching him box.
I couldn’t stand the tension, couldn’t stand to see him lose.
I just wanted everyone to get out of the way and just let him be,
be the Champion forever,
that he deserved that.
I wanted him to quit, while he was on top.
I remember how he kept on going.
I remember wondering why.
I remember all this, I remember it all.
That’s why early this Sunday morning
I’m here at the Safeway
Standing in line to buy the Sunday Times.
$6, she says, Wow that’s a lot.
Can you imagine, the man behind me says, shaking his head,
Spending all that when money’s so tight.
I tell them about Muhammad Ali.
How I met him once.
What he taught me.
I tell them I saw in him what I wanted to be.
I tell them he showed me that there can be more to life than the ring and the fight,
that there are convictions and truth
and the giving it all up for something worth so much more.
I tell them he showed me there can be a time for the fight and a time to get back in the game.
A time to keep on going past what they said you could do or your body can bear.
I tell them he showed me that the greatest fights are those we never planned.
The daily fights of rising and striving, despite discrimination and disease,
despite disability and despair.
I tell them he showed me that life can take away your smile
but that we must never let it take away the twinkle in our eyes.
I tell them about watching him with my Dad.
I tell them I want to hold the paper that holds his name,
who helps me live into my own.
This amazing man who came out of the pit and back into the game.
This fighter in the ring and this war resister.
This uncontainable and outspoken man, this real and imperfect man.
This daring to be different and his own and no one else’s man.
I tell them when life hits me flat,
I get up,
I keep on,
I remember Ali.
July 9, 2016