On the Passing of a Complex Hero

On the Passing of a Complex Hero

Muhammad Ali has left us.

Some say he was the greatest sportsman of all time, certainly so in the craft he once dominated, but he was much more transcendent than that. Transcendence defined him, transcendence shone through him and his transcendence may serve us as a beacon when we need it most, … and that may be today.

Perhaps he died today because the whole world desperately needs the examples he provided us: courage in the pursuit of justice and equity and tolerance, especially when the most vile among us are vying to attain the world’s most powerful positions, leading a charge that leaves little to chance, disdaining all the values so inherent in the Great Ali.

I recall wondering whether he was Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite athlete? Or Nelson Mandela’s?

Dr. King had difficulties with Ali’s adherence to the Nation of Islam and his devotion to Malcolm X, although the latter’s perceptions have proven sadly true in too many areas, but the moral ties that bound Ali and Dr. King were many, as were the degradations the government of the United States, a country they both loved, subjected them to. Ali has been hugely inspirational to the downtrodden, the despised and the humbled throughout the world, a populace full of unrecognized and inchoate heroes and heroines, and the same is true as to those who love justice, nobility and honor, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.

He was a hero with feet of Clay and those are the best kinds, human heroes, the kind we humans need. Not paragons of perfection but men and women who despite their imperfections attain transcendental status in the quest for human dignity, equity and social justice, mankind’s most elusive endeavors but those we most desperately need to attain.

These seem truly dark days for those goals but perhaps that’s because of the contrasts that are being drawn, the light that is being shed on the evil that surrounds us, envelops us and for now, dominates us. A terribly efficient evil, perfecting its craft, dominating the loci of power, perverting the sources we count on to provide us with the information we need to make our most critical social decisions. But that evil, in its infancy, attacked him and Dr. King and Nelson Mandela as well, and bloodied though it left them, it could not defeat them.

Perhaps Ali’s death today was necessary to remind us that if we persevere, if we refuse to accept evil, even in its purportedly lesser forms (the most efficient way to peddle evil), it can be overcome. I think that perhaps Ali’s disdain for lesser evils, for conformance to and acceptance of what others felt compelled to tolerate, was one of Ali’s most important strengths.

Yesterday I was not optimistic about short term prospects of attaining social justice, although sparks seem to be kindling into flames. The powers that be, with their control of the media and finance and traditional political structures, seem determined to extinguish all threats to their dominance. But today I recall a night in 1963 when I listened on a portable radio as that man with feet of Clay accomplished the supposedly impossible against insuperable odds, perhaps the first step in a long journey he’s left us to complete, and as the minstrels were then singing, perhaps in the not too distant future, someday we too shall overcome.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2016; all rights reserved

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