Swimming Against the Tide

Blog by Sr. Judy Morris, OP
Blog by Sr. Judy Morris, OP

A five-year-old African-American boy stood beside his mother crying in a five and dime store in Louisville, Kentucky.  He was thirsty and wanted a glass of water and was refused because the store was segregated in 1947.  That boy was Muhammed Ali.  He knew then he had to fight for everything he achieved, and later found that the boxing ring provided an arena where he would be successful.

I hate boxing and wish that it would be banned.   However, for Muhammed Ali (aka Cassius Clay), this sport provided an opportunity for success, money, and movement beyond racial barriers.  His fame grew with every successful fight, but in 1967 he would have the fight of his life when he registered as a conscientious objector and refused to enlist in the army and fight in Vietnam.  He paid a price for many years for his principled decision.  He was banned from boxing for three years until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.  He was stripped of his championship title by the World Boxing Association and was forced to give up his passport.  In cities around the country he was ridiculed and threatened.

Muhammed Ali’s gift to the country was authenticity.   Nothing held him back from speaking truth to power on war, racism or abuse of power.  As a devout Muslim, his words came from his moral core, without a filter.  He did not ask “Will I be misunderstood, go to jail, lose the opportunity to fight again, lose the money I need for my future.”  He simply followed core values.  His values were “eulogy values,” not “resumé values.”

He never wavered from his core values.  Speaking to a college audience he said: “I would like to say to those of you who think I’ve lost so much, I have gained everything.  I have peace of heart.  I have a free conscience.  I wake up happy and go to bed happy.  And, if I go to jail, I go to jail happy.”

Although some were put off by the bragging, calling himself, “the Greatest,” he knew greatness happened outside the ring, and showed that when being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984.  He said, “Parkinson’s is my toughest fight…  I’m being tested to see if I’ll keep praying, to see if I’ll keep my faith.”

Thousands of people will travel to Louisville on Friday to celebrate his life as a model of authenticity.

When asked how he wanted people to remember him, he replied:

“He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience.
A tablespoon of generosity.
One pint of kindness.
One quart of laughter.
One pint of concern.
He added lots of faith.
And stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a lifetime.”

Rest in peace, Muhammed.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

18 responses to “Swimming Against the Tide

  1. Thank you Judy for posting this thoughtful piece.
    I too have wondered about Ali’s braggadocio, but he actually was the world’s greatest boxer. If Aquinas is right in saying that “humility is truth,” then can you say that he bragged humbly?
    Just a thought to provoke a smile.

    Alida Coughlin, OPA

  2. Thank you for this meaningful reflection on Mohammed Ali,s life. I love his “recipe ” that speaks of his life. I only learned recently about his penchant for poetry!

  3. Ali was dedicated, courageous and funny….right to the end. He gave Christians and all people of faith something to think about…..Thanks Judy for your reflection.

  4. Judy, what a beautiful reflection. He really knew what was important in life and what would bring him peace. Thanks so much for your words. Kathleen

  5. thanks for reminding me that authenticity is far more important and challenging than “success” in the eyes of our culture!

  6. Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Ali, Judy. He gave us a great example how to stand up for our values despite the losses that would entail. May we all have and live our faith as he did his. With God’s help, we can.

  7. Thank you, Judy. I’ve heard lots and lots of news programs about Mohammed Ali, but you summed up his life the most beautifully. He is an icon of an American Muslim.

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