Imagine showing up to grad school, embarking on a journey toward that thing you love, chasing after your passion, and in the process moving closer to your deep down self . . .
Imagine being in the lobby of the historic hotel that will be your dorm for the next ten days, downtown Louisville . . . and you’re standing at the elevator between lectures, just standing by yourself, waiting, when this man shuffles by, slightly stoop-shouldered, moving slower than you might imagine him to move, and you think, is that . . . no, it can’t be . . .
and the man who has passed now, stops, shuffles back . . . he stops his own journey, pauses, and shuffles back to see you. This man who is somehow older than he is, somehow larger than he is, as if he is able to swell up out of himself just by being . . .
and he smiles, then puts both trembling hands up, thick fingers balled into fists and there is no doubt, frail as he almost seems, there is no doubt he has the strength to do whatever his soul wishes . . .
and he pretends for a moment to be ready to spar. You wave your hands, playfully. Tell him, “that’s okay, I’d like to be here the rest of the week in one piece,” and he smiles, winks . . . and the woman with him smiles.
The man nods, his head already moving with its small tremors . . . he nods and smiles and holds up one long finger, asks you to wait, like you would ever leave that spot, and he turns sideways, tugs a pant leg, exposing the ankle nearest to you, then lowers the pant leg and levitates inches off the ground.
He lowers himself, finds his footing, smiles. You know what he has done, but you play along. Amazed. Not at the illusion of what he did, but the magic of who is he, and the fact that he paused on his own journey . . . he shuffled back, he sought you out . . .
and then he reaches out a trembling arm, the quakes small enough that you’re not certain they’re real, they seem such a paradox for someone so . . . beyond maybe, someone so more than . . .
and you reach out, his strong hand enveloping yours, and for a moment, you are the same, the two of you connected like that . . . his wife, and another person you barely noticed waiting with smiles.
He nods and smiles again. Nods again, then shuffles off. The woman leaning behind him, whispers, thank you, as if you were the one who had done something, anything . . . your legs stuck to that spot . . . your mind wondering if any of it was real . . .
Thank you, Muhammad Ali for more than a memory, but showing me, in a moment of passing by, what Greatness can truly mean. That seeing others, giving them a little of yourself, that it isn’t just for those looking up.