In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him ‘til he cried out
In his anger and his shame, “I am leaving! I am leaving!” But the fighter still remains…
“The Boxer,” written by Paul Simon
I am not a fan of boxing, so I do not pretend to have been a follower of Mohammed Ali. I thought it curious when he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay. I knew little of the Nation of Islam, except that their “Nation” seemed obsessively angry. Mohammed Ali impressed me as loud and arrogant. Like most other white folks at the time, I did not understand. Even today, I cannot understand in the same way as one who is a member of countless generations of oppressed people. No, I did not appreciate Mohammed Ali, the boxer, but I do admire the passion with which he stood up against racism, discrimination, and the Vietnam War; the way he used his fame to give voice to a greater cause.
In the late 1960’s, the folk-prophet Paul Simon wrote a song titled, “The Boxer.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3LFML_pxlY) The song tells the story of a young man in New York City who suffers a series of knockdowns, but always manages to get back on his feet and climb back into the ring of his life. The song is an analogy for our life journey. We each “carry the reminders” of our struggles, our failures, and our losses. We have scars, limps, aches, and pains from life’s many battles. Even the great Mohammed Ali was silenced in his later years by Parkinson’s disease. We do not age gracefully and, sooner or later, the combined forces of life deal a knockout punch from which we will not rise, at least not on this side of the grave.
Ian Maclaren, a 19th Century preacher, is credited for the popular bit of folk wisdom, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” How true. There are times in every life when our only comfort comes from the shadows, times we feel we cannot take another step or fight another day. The enemy might be cancer, betrayal, or the loss of a loved one, but we find ourselves in a boxing ring not of our choosing. Something inside drives us to continue through our anger and our shame to whatever lies on the other side. We get hit where we live, and it hurts. Eventually, we find ourselves down and out. We only hope to have left a positive mark on the world that so scarred us, praying the battles we fought somehow improved the world that also blessed us so richly.
So, rest in peace, Mohammed Ali. May your causes long outlive your years on earth.
Life Notes will be on vacation next week. Feel free to browse through my archives.