Today, I want to share a guest post by Sherrie Marshall Spitz, who recounts her personal connections to the life and legend Muhammad Ali, who passed almost a month ago.
Muhammad Ali, nee Cassius Clay, fought his last fight on June 3, 2016. He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. But until you watched him fight, you could only know that if you listened to his self-promoted hype. This was a man I admired and adored when I was a small child.
The timing for Ali’s word-slinging attributes could not have been more succinct than for my generation. He held deep personal convictions and was strong-willed beyond imagination. No other heavy-weight boxer before him had ever publicly claimed he was the greatest before there was documented proof. But his record upon retirement stood for itself, 56-5. He was the juice my country needed. We lived in the throes of deep turmoil and terrifying conflict.
American’s tuned in nightly to listen to Walter Cronkite on CBS, one of 6 channels offered in the 60’s and 70’s, to get the latest news on the death toll and atrocities of the Vietnam War. Boys from every city were being sent home in body bags and wheelchairs. Many parents only received dog tags and a Will that their beloved son was required to write before landing in a country that did not ask for America’s help. We clung to each other and prayed the war would come to a peaceful and agreeable resolution.
Yet, here was a man who became a conscientious objector to the war and stood for something that our country didn’t know they needed – a winner. Ali was a tank, but he was still no match for the oversized, muscle-bound, machinations of George Foreman in 1974. They were not only arch rivals in the ring and in front of the television crews covering the match of the century, but George considered Ali his mortal enemy. He publicly stated that he wanted to kill Ali. Death lived on the breath of all Americans. These were strong sentiments for the time, and every person in every house tuned in to bear witness to what was sure to be a slaughter.
After his 1971 loss to Joe Frazier in “The Fight of the Century,” Ali rallied back for “Rumble in the Jungle” against Big George. That night in 1974 will forever live in infamy as the date the loud-mouthed “Pretty” boy from Louisville, Kentucky indeed became the greatest. I was only a child, but the most promoted boxing match in the world was somehow tied in my mind to the war effort. As it was for many, American’s began to believe that we, too, could overcome astounding odds and put an end to the horrors of Vietnam, the 2-decade war, in which Americans fought for 16 years. Was it possible that the hope gleaned from a boxing ring in the jungles of Zaire could somehow rally our troops and help piece our nation back together?
These were adult feelings that I could neither understand nor interpret without pure childlike oversimplification. All I knew was that when Ali fought on my family’s 20” stereo console TV, we were together, we were rooting for the underdog, and we believed whole-heartedly that Muhammad Ali would rise victorious. He carried the hopes and dreams of a country that nursed crushed spirits and bruised egos. The devastation that played out on the nightly news was real drama and nightmarish. Vietnam was the Boogey Man, and we were scared.
Ali knocked Foreman out in the 8th round, and went on to win fight after unbelievable fight. The Vietnam war ended the following year, and when Ali retired in 1981, his loving spirit and skillful forging of broken international relations proved that he was just getting started. Even though he had not fought in the war, it had scarred Ali’s sense of humanity. The Boogey Man had changed him, and he knew his fighting days in another arena were in their infancy.
He began to foster deeper harmonious peace between the world’s nations. He met with foreign dignitaries that included audiences with Pope John Paul II, Russian President Gorbachev, and Fidel Castro. Even when he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease at age 48, he continued his “Fight for Peace” campaign with grace, dignity, and the characteristic pride he exuded his entire life. He and George Foreman eventually developed a brotherly love for each other and became lifelong friends.
I learned many lessons about the true qualities of a life well-lived from a man that came to me through a snowy television set in the 60’s and 70’s. His teachings of perseverance, tolerance of others, and how to rise above the fray have stuck with me for over 50 years. At my house and in my eyes, Ali was the greatest, and he will be missed deeply by many generations.
Sherrie’s blog, Sherrie’s Always Write, went live today, and I am glad to feature her work here on The Town’s End Tribune to mark her landmark day.
Her bio reads:
Nothing is more amusing than a description of a life well-worn by someone you’ve not yet come to love as much as I. I am a writer with too much time on my hands. I dabble in thrillers and novellas starring ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances. Think Dean Koontz, but not.
My dog, Sierra, and I share unreasonable amounts of time together in Denver, Colorado. Yes, it’s really a mile high. I’m an avid reader of everything, including, but not limited to: novels, self-help manuals, product labels, street signs, minimum wage posters, and closed caption if I’ve accidentally pressed the hot key on my remote control.
My wicked sense of self-importance and dogged logic for inappropriate commentary color everything I do and say, but should not detract from the self-deprecating humor I plan to heap on you at every corner.
Be sure to check out her blog daily, because she posts new content Monday-Friday!