Muhammad Ali lives in Phoenix part of the time and has made a tradition of showing up at St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room at Thanksgiving time. St. Vincent de Paul is an inner-city mission that feeds the homeless and those down on their luck. People come carrying their belongings in plastic bags and shopping carts. Before they eat, they pray, give thanks, and then leave quickly to retrieve their belongings — but not on the day Ali arrives.
Nobody knows when Ali is going to show up, but when he does he is immediately recognized; they greet him shouting, “Ali, Ali!” The greatest sporting icon of the 20th century no longer does his famous rope-a-dope shuffle; after more than a decade with serious Parkinsonism, he moves more slowly now. Ali looks gaunt, and he no longer speaks, smiling only with his eyes now, but unchanged is his love of mingling with and touching people. He embraces people wherever he goes; he feels their love and they feel his.
Ali hugs a guy who’s pants are falling down to his ankles, and the man says to him, “Thanks for coming Champ. You are the real thing.” Ali is the real thing and has been a man of truth when he changed his name, refused to go to war, and faced his disease. When I see Ali, I do not see a man whose glory days are over. I see a man who can still take over any room, who embraces everybody and makes people feel good. I see a man who on the outside looks fragile, but inside his light shines strong. I don’t see Ali shuffling . . . I see him dancing and spreading love on Thanksgiving.
I was surrounded by love on Thanksgiving: my children, grandchildren, friends and relatives. We each brought mouth-watering delicacies, gave thanks for our many blessings, and then made a point of doing Ali’s love shuffle. Moving slowly around the room I hugged everyone. They felt my love for them, and I felt their love for me, my eyes wet with Thanksgiving.
Spread Ali love shuffle hugs to all of your relatives on Thanksgiving. Mi Takuye Oyacin.