It’s USA Today and a story about Muhammad Ali here at Café Amis, an American-French café on a cobblestone street in Sewickley, PA.
It’s a cool spot on a warm Saturday near Pittsburgh, a small place with large windows not far from Sewickley’s historic library where books on Ali are also given some noticeable placement.
We’re all here, by the way, a five-or-so-hour drive from home, just outside of Pittsburgh for our annual few days of both business and pleasure.
This is where the kids (and mom and dad) have American friends we knew well in Uganda, friends who have a remarkable old front porch, friends who, like we will do sooner or later, have moved home to North America for the simple reason that it was time – school and grandparents and all sorts of thing do eventually call.
The other night, for the entire brew of kids (there are six between the two families), it was the Penguins game in the hotel room, this before I took the two boys to play some road hockey to, you know, make us feel at (our African) home.
This time the game, in fact, was in front of the towering brick home of Mario Lemieux (more on that later) … (car!!). And this, before Jon saw his American friend in his last Little League playoff game. And this, before we, the two boys and their dads catch a Pirates game later tonight.
But (besides the Penguins on the cusp of their 4th Stanley Cup win), the sports stories of the moment are the superstars lost this past week: Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey, just after Ali, the sort of athlete who, even in death (especially in death) would lead one of American’s leading dailies to publish this report about love and courage.
The USA Today writer, PBS journalist Tavis Smiley, takes a walk into his own memories when one day in 1990 he met Ali and Nelson Mandela together in LA. Mandela, just out of South African prison of 27 years, was taken aback by the champ like a love-struck school girl – “Ali, Ali, Ali,” he and his South African entourage chanted when Ali made his way down a long corridor to meet him personally.
Mandela has left a mark, a ripple, on my family’s African experience, not to mention my own thoughts in the privacy of quiet times.
The writer’s friendship with acclaimed American poet Maya Angelou also plays into this USA Today article.
My own very rudimentary understanding of a tiny sampling of poetry has enriched my own days, but what’s interesting about this piece is how Smiley once debated Maya one the question of which is the more vital attribute to have for society and its members – Love? Or courage?
“I argued love. She argued courage. I argued that it takes love to animate courage. She argued that it takes courage to show love.”
And Smiley then goes on to note that, like, say, the body of a champion boxer, it takes training to develop these sorts of muscles in our lives, baby steps, small practices and habits and ways of relating to ourselves, and others, even in the face of one danger or another.
It’s a good American piece with a slice of good American culture.
It’s so good, I’ll read it to the kids.
Back in Canada.
You can find it in its entirety here.