coming July 5, 2016

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Pat Head Summitt: A Post I Won't Be Able To Write in Past Tense

When I was a kid, I met a young woman whose influence on my life could never have been guessed by any of the farmers or Saturday lawn experts gathered around the counter of my dad's store. She was tall, but she seemed more than tall to me. I was not quite eleven, and she was the head women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. My family knew hers very well: the Head family lived not too far from my grandparents, and like me she was a Clarksville girl born and bred.

But even in the late seventies, everyone knew Pat.

Girl's basketball was bigger in north-central Tennessee, because Pat Head Summitt had single-handedly built it. Single-mindedly too, because that may have been her most singular personality trait. What she focused on, she focused on absolutely.

Tennessee basketball, for example.

Pat was an All-American player at UT-Martin. Back then (the dark ages) there were no scholarships for women athletes, so her family paid her way through school. She went to UT as a graduate assistant--women's basketball wasn't even sanctioned by the NCAA yet--and became the head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974. Paid $250 a MONTH, she washed the uniforms, drove the van to away games, and completed her Masters. In 1976, she won a silver medal as the co-captain of the Olympic team, and began an unparalleled coaching journey by leading back-to-back 20-win seasons and earning the Lady Vols their first #1 ranking.

But this is public history. Any Vols fan, any women's basketball fan knows this. The girl looking up at the tall lady with the infectious laugh and flashing eyes was only vaguely aware of what Pat had done. She was only aware of how magnetic she was, with all those old gentlemen farmers clustered around her as she talked with her brother and my dad.

Publicly, Pat Head Summitt is arguably the greatest coach of all time in any sport. 1098 wins to 208 losses, 8 national championships, 16 SEC championships, 8-time SEC Coach of the Year, 7-time National Coach of the Year, Naismith Coach of the 20th Century, First Olympian to win a medal and subsequently coach a medal-winning team with the 1984 gold medal-winning squad. Winning percentage of.841 and a stunning .913 at home. 45 players who are now coaches.

Every Lady Vol who played all four years under Pat Summitt graduated with a degree.


Every Lady Vol who played under Pat Summitt played in at least one Elite Eight.

Every Lady Vol who played under Pat Summit went to the NCAA Tournament EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.

Pat Summitt was such a great coach that she was offered the UT men's head coaching position. Twice.

But that was all in the future when I met Pat Head Summitt for the first time. Even then, though, she was a big deal--a hometown legend in the making for my hometown, which had already given the world the amazing Wilma Rudoph, Olympic icon and the first woman to win 3 gold medals in one Olympics.

Clarksville, Tennessee breeds strong women.

And yet, there was something so awe-inspiring about her even then--a woman who'd been to the Olympics, who'd just taken her first team to the IAIAW Final Four, who suddenly saw me looking at her from the end of the counter and who promptly said, "Is this your daughter, John?"

My dad said, "Yeah, that's my girl Celina. She's not a ball player because they won't let girls play football."

The men around the counter laughed, but Pat looked at me with a smile. "They will someday," she assured me. "And you'll be great at it."

And I believed her.

How many 11-year-old girls did Pat Summitt say that to? "You'll be great at it." Probably thousands. And for each one of them, that moment still feels as personal and pertinent to them now as it does to me today.  Especially today.

I'm writing this post today because I can't write a memorial post for Pat Head Summitt. I can't wait until she's gone because I can't believe she ever will be. I just can't process it--and the rest of Vol Nation won't be able to either.

I met Pat Summitt many times in subsequent years--in my dad's store off and on, in Knoxville, at games, random moments in the halls at school or the mall or in hospital corridors or at funerals. She always asked about me--about my grades and interests and talents--and she remembered them too. It was always, "Hey, Celina--congratulations on doing so well at that debate competition! Heard you beat the tar out of our boys--good for you!" or "I hear you're turning into a fantastic writer--you keep working at it!" or "I saw your wedding pictures; you looked beautiful."  With everything she had going, she had the ability to index information on an amazing scale--what to most legendary coaches would be minutiae: the everyday accomplishments of a girl who grew into a woman and who'd never won a game of HORSE.

The last time I saw Pat Summitt, I didn't expect her to know who I was. I stood by in silence, while the people I was with gathered around for conversation and autographs and all the things we Vols do when we meet one of our most beloved legends. Pat Summit could turn a group of 60-year-old businessmen into fangurls. She wasn't coaching anymore, and I hadn't seen her in years although my dad had. I knew she was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's and what that meant. She acted the same as she always had, and I just watched from the outskirts--content just to be there. And when finally the group broke up to let her go on her way, she walked right by me.

And she paused.

We were at the same eye level, which seemed strange to me because I'd always remembered her as taller than me, a literal interpretation of looking up to this woman. She gave me a little hit on the arm and said, "Football. You'd be good at it, but writing--writing you're great at."

Then she walked away.

And I believed her.

Pat Summitt changed the world for women's athletics. She built not just UT but women's collegiate sports, and served as the foundation for both through four decades. She bridged the gap between the era when there were no NCAA-sanctioned women's basketball teams to the birth and growth of the WNBA, which is liberally stocked with her players. She is easily the greatest woman coach in any sport of all time, and one of an elite group of coaches whose achievements will never be superseded. On the Mount Rushmore of coaching greats, Pat Summitt's face will be there. But to generations of Tennessee girls, whether they played for her, or knew her, or even just heard about what she built for young women everywhere, Pat Summitt means so much more. And her loss will be correspondingly greater.

2016 has already taken so many greats. Too many. And this loss is personal for everyone whose lives Pat Summitt touched. But if you put this into perspective, the pain grows sharper. In a world where coaches are being busted trying to hide the fact that their players have raped women just to keep them playing, this coach and her impact grows commensurately greater. Because in the end, it won't be the scum like Art Briles who are remembered as the Greatest Of All Time coaches.

But Pat Summitt IS the Greatest Of All Time. Not just in coaching. But in life as well. And so to me she is, and must be, always referred to not only with unparalleled respect, but in the present tense. So I wouldn't be able to write this when she's gone. Only now, while we still have her, and when, hopefully she will know on some level what she means to millions of people--a true icon, with integrity and passion and the undiluted ability to not only do what's right but to inspire others to do so as well.

Today is a great day to make a donation to the We Back Pat Foundation for Alzheimer's research, not in Coach Summitt's memory but in celebration of who she is and what she's done.

You'll be great at it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Phantom Pain

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this post. Funny how things can change over the course of a few days and without warning. The person I was Friday is different from who I was on Saturday and vastly different from who I am today. When a man with guns can walk into a nightclub and senselessly eradicate the lives and well-being of so many people without a qualm of thought, you have to sit back and consider your world and your life.

I've spent the last two days doing just that. And then something happened today to solidify what I've been thinking about. So bear with me--this isn't the kind of post I usually write. No laughs here today.

There's always been a lot of tension in my family. Most of that is due to personalities and the history those personalities created for themselves. I spent a long time running from my family--everyone. Even my own kids. I hit a point in my life as an adult where I broke under the constant pressure. Literally. Snapped like a weak tree in a strong breeze. And I fled.

I disappeared entirely from my family and friends and stayed disappeared for a long, long time. Ever see the lyrics to the song Chandelier?

I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist
Like it doesn't exist
I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier -- Sia @allrightsreserved

That could have been written about me. It's a failure in my life, one that I face the repercussions of every single day. My mother died before we reconciled. My father is far more forgiving. And one daughter forgave me while the other didn't. 

As is understandable.

But then, I reached a point of maturity--not the maturity that says I'm old enough to vote or drink, but the maturity to look at myself and recognize my own failure as a human being and the damage I left in my wake as a result. At first, it's easy to blame your failings on someone else. My mother was a convenient target for that. The last time I saw her, she literally stalked me to an event I was helping to cater and screamed at me in front of hundreds of people. I walked away from her, but I couldn't walk away from her voice. I still hear it echoing in my head.

I will always hear it.

That was a moment of decision. And like all that came before it, it was a moment I failed. Sometimes, though, failure really is the only option. There was no way to win that encounter or to turn it aside because my mother had determined on the day she sought me out that she was going to cause a scene and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It wasn't until I gained the emotional security I needed (thanks to my husband and his family) that I could take a step back and consider my own. And when I faced that family situation squarely, it became apparent to me that I had to do whatever I could to rebuild those burnt bridges.

There's a different sort of courage involved when you head into a situation and are willing to accept full responsibility for your faults while rejecting the idea that someone else made you do it, someone else drove you away, someone else is really to blame for YOUR mistakes. I walked back into the world I'd fled and did just that. Wasn't easy. Nothing to congratulate myself about it.

It had to be done in order for me to move on--and hopefully for them too.

But some damage can't be repaired, and that's where the real tragedies are created.

I'm not an inherently kind person or a thoughtful person or a brilliant person. I've done some pretty messed up stuff which I regret, as any normal person would. But I do think more about what I do and say and consider. Or I try to. And I move on. I accept responsibility for what I do and move forward from that point.

But I also learned that sometimes there is no other option but to walk away while they're screaming after you, doing their best to destroy whatever fragile accord you've forged for yourself and your life. And just like an amputated limb, even though intellectually you know it's gone you can still feel that phantom pain torturing you constantly with a succession of 'what if--' pipe dreams and vain hopes.

There are a lot of families feeling that phantom pain right now. And there are a lot of people today who feel it and know that they are personally responsible for that amputation. They have no one to blame but themselves.

I have no one to blame but myself.

But there's something you take away from stories like mine, too. I tried and failed to reconcile with all my family. I agonized over that for a long time.

And then I left that phantom pain behind, because while I can control my actions I cannot control anyone else's. I made a deliberate decision to no longer live in fear or guilt or anger, and just to let that sorrow go. Every day, I have a moment where I think--"wow, I wish I'd made up with Mom before she died" or "Man, I wish that so and so didn't hate me" or "if there was only some way I could make it up/get through to them/make things work". But that process is a dual one, not a solo act. All I can do is to make my side of things as tranquil as possible and hope that one day the other end of the road will meet mine.

And if it doesn't? I accept that and move on.

So take a look at your own life. How many resentments are you holding that have poisoned your life and relationships? How many people have your actions damaged? How many people do you see when you close your eyes every night and wish that everything was all right?

And then realize that before those other people can drain the poison from their systems enough to meet you halfway, yours has to be gone first.

My estranged daughter is absolutely livid that in a post I posted a picture that included her from her sister's wedding seven years ago. Honestly, I didn't think anything of it. Personal blog, personal picture. We haven't talked in a few years--her choice, which I respect enough to abide by. The first communications I've had from her in all that time were the messages I got from her today. So I removed the picture and my comments about both my daughters in deference to her anger.

Which is fine. Phantom pain is fleeting, but all-encompassing while you're feeling it.

So why am I telling you all about this? Because I think it's important that you understand who I am and how I became this way before I pass along this--

They say you can never go home again. That a bridge once burned is destroyed forever. That some things are unforgivable. But in the end, the ones who cannot forgive are the ones who hurt the worst. My mother didn't talk to hers for twenty-five years. I didn't talk to my mother for fifteen years. My daughter hasn't talked to me in three years. I have to ask myself why four generations of women in the same family have had the same problem.

The answer's simple--we are all the same woman. Different problems, different talents, different choices but ultimately sharing that same black or white, no gray mentality. When you get right down to it, that's a scary, scary thought. That why I made a concerted effort to stop with the ultimatums-issuing kind of relationships because obviously that's been an issue in my family. And no, it's not genetics. I was adopted. So somehow, it's an environmental trigger that has created this maelstrom--these phantom pains that are agonizing and never seem to heal.

Don't let your phantom pain continue to exist. Accept responsibility for your part in those toxic relationships. And then let the other half come to their own conclusions in their own way. And if they don't?

Keep moving forward instead of torturing yourself needlessly. Because for some reason, it's always the minutiae that gets things flared up--not because they're important, but because they are easier to deal with than the reality.

My door is always open. My phone is always going to be unblocked to you. I will always answer your call or return it as soon as I am able. My world is always open to you. Think about what I've said.

I love you. Always.

Time to let that poison drain away.


New Cover Art--The Temptation of Asphodel


I work with some pretty amazing people on my books. My cover artist, Kelly at KMD Designs, is probably the best cover artist I've ever used in my career. This may be my favorite cover ever. 

At any rate, the third book in my mythology-based fantasy series The Temptation of Asphodel will be released on July 5--which is exciting since the first two books are climbing up the genre bestseller list on Amazon. This morning The Reckoning of Asphodel was ranked #38, and The Redemption of Asphodel was at #108. 

Upward mobility is nice. 

At any rate, enjoy Kelly's amazing work and stay tuned--excerpts will be going up in the next few days both here and on my website at www.cachevault.org. 

Oh, you want a blurb? Here you go:

When Tamsen and Brial find a long-lost civilization of Elves, the pattern of the gods' game starts to become clearer. Tamsen begins to feel confident—until an ancient magic tempts her from her path, magic wielded by her most dangerous enemy. As she nears the end of her quest everything changes again. The hunter becomes the hunted, the ally becomes the foe, and behind it all lies the hand of a third, unknown god who tries to lure her from her destiny. 

As the rumbling memory of an ancient war settles over the realm of Ansienne, Tamsen’s faith falters. Can she hold firm against the temptations that are thrown in her path, or will she fall into failure as generations of Elves have done before her? When she is drawn into conflict with immortal enemies, she discovers that the line between obedience and temptation is much narrower than she thought. 
Obedience is dangerous; temptation can kill.

"...If you enjoy a wonderful fantasy series that will captivate you with the sheer volume of world building & captivating characters that fairly leap off the pages and into your hearts, then grab the third installment of the Asphodel Cycle series, THE TEMPTATION OF ASPHODEL. All this reviewer wants to know is this: Can we get more please, Ms. Summers?" -- Love Romances and More R



p;M  Best Fantas

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Asshat Saga--The Asshattery That Is "Jim from Tuscaloosa"

All right. Enough is enough. 

This is the third blog post in as many months about dealing with asshats online. The first two were, frankly, oblique and satiric because I didn't think it was right to call out an asshat for his asshattery online where non-asshats could point and laugh. Today, that changed. Today we're going to talk frankly about a Paul Finebaum caller known by his pseudonym "Jim from Tuscaloosa". And since that is an alias--no doubt to keep him from getting beat up--it'll be difficult for him to complain that I'm being mean to him on my blog. 

Which, by the way, he admitted to reading on nationally televised SEC Network program The Paul Finebaum Show. *waves* Hey there, "Jim". Good to see you again. 

Read on.

"Jim" has a nasty habit of online attacks against people he disagrees with--the kind of guy who posts things chock full of hatred and then deletes them before anyone but the intended target can see the post. He claims to have about 10,000 people blocked on Twitter--there's a good reason for that, since I'd wager about twice that have HIM blocked. He blocks people who disagree with him, and then portrays them as 'dirty' or 'nasty' or 'sick' and brags on national television about how awesome he is. 

Case in point--yesterday he called the Finebaum show twice, during which he compared himself to both Donald Trump and Muhammad Ali--on the day of Ali's funeral. 

Instant asshat designation right there. 

According to "Jim", he is the greatest at everything--greatest athlete who never played sports, greatest Finebaum caller despite the fact his sole topic is himself, greatest Twitter magnate although no one cares about (or can read) his Tweets. In fact, if it weren't for "Jim", there would BE no Finebaum show, none of Finebaum's great articles would have been written (since they were all comprised of what "Jim" had said in his phone calls the day before), and to hear him tell it, there would have been no Alabama football even though he claims to be a conscientious objector to football now. 

Which may be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

Except yesterday when he said "my blood is red".

Um...duh.

At any rate, deciphering the "Jim from Tuscaloosa" character's asshat trail has taught me a lot. First off, the alias. It's been known in Alabama fan forums online who "Jim from Tuscaloosa" is for years--allegedly. I personally do not know who the asshat is or his real identity, but if you read this and this and this and this and this you might start to get the picture. That's just the first page, by the way.



Disclaimer--all this information has been gleaned through a simple Google search and does not in any way constitute any claim that I definitively know the real identity of the asshat behind the "Jim from Tuscaloosa" moniker. That being said--smoke, meet fire.

Second off, this asshat has an unusual capacity for hatred and the fool's courage necessary to vomit that forth on a daily basis. Earlier this week, he went off on a rant about how 'no one pushes up the white man', in the process insulting women, African-Americans, the LGBT community, the disabled, and the entirety of the American citizens who do not support Donald Trump for president.

So most likely YOU, if you're reading this blog.

"Jim from Tuscaloosa" has a history of turning on Paul Finebaum as well. (Love the Finebaum Fan website, by the way--listen to some of "Jim's" calls if you get a chance) Usually that happens after he tries to get into a phoner feud (where the show puts two callers who hate each other on the air at the same time) and loses.

So far, he's been systematically destroyed any time that little surprise has been sprung on me. He rants and yells and says what he believes to be insulting things--completely unaware that I got my college education because I was a nationally ranked debater and extemporaneous speaker. So I listen and then calmly destroy every little lie I busted him in. For example--

He called the show last year and said he'd met Rocky Marciano in West Palm Beach in 1969 when he was eighteen. (FYI Marciano was killed in a plane crash in 1966) So when he was done screaming, I broke down his story logically and using math. To wit:

You said you were 18 in 1969 when you met Rocky Marciano in Florida. That means you were born in 1950 or 1951--if you were being honest about your age. So that makes you 65-66 years of age. And oh, by the way, Marciano was dead before 1969 in a plane crash. 

"Jim" fled before I could point out that if he'd met Marciano for REAL the year of his death, that would make him pushing 70.

Last week, Paul was on vacation. "Jim" refuses to call in when ESPN's Ryan McGee is on the phone, although he will call into the control room and whine and complain about Ryan as a host. Personally, I like Ryan, especially since he called "Jim" a "necessary evil". He's a great host. The two days after that, ESPN's Brad Edwards was the host. He just mentioned my name at the top of the show, and Jim called in to rant about 'that damn witch' 'that damn woman' 'Helena'--a pseudo-insult he thinks will hurt me (hell+Celina=Helena) but has no idea the name is based upon Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in ancient Greece so thanks again, "Jim" and basically lost his damn mind. Brad's response was classic--he schooled "Jim" so severely on the air that I promptly cheered and followed all of Brad's accounts. "Jim" went ballistic--so much so that THIS week, he called in to bitch at Paul because Ryan and Brad sat in for him and were too nice to me.

I can't make this stuff up--and I'm a writer.

So...yesterday. The Ali funeral. Ali was an idol of mine, obviously, and I called the show early in the first hour to express my thoughts which you already read in my last blog post. Then I monitored the memorial service for an article I'm working on for this week. When he KNEW I wasn't watching the show ("Jim" has a sockpuppet account he uses to monitor his enemies online, including my website, blog, and social media accounts) he called the show and said I was a 'geriatric' because I remembered Elvis's funeral. You can hear this idiocy here during Hour 2, around 4:59. And let's be clear--I haven't mentioned his name since I decimated him brutally a couple of weeks ago.

Seriously.

So, let's break this down logically. I was ten when Elvis died, and as a kid in Tennessee the funeral was on all the TV stations. That makes me--math again--born in 1966-67. That makes me--more math--49. Hardly geriatric. Perhaps if "Jim" was able to do math or keep track of the deaths of famous people, he wouldn't make such an asshat of himself on a daily basis.

But let's also remember a few important facts here as well.

When I call, the show puts my picture up on the screen with my name--not because I'm a supermodel, but because I'm not such a chicken-asshat that I have to hide behind anonymity--as "Jim" does.

When I call or tweet or blog, I use my real name--not because anyone cares, but because I have no idea to hide my identity to keep from getting the crap beat out of me--as "Jim" does.

When I call, I don't talk about myself--not because I can't, but because I won't. I have *never* used the Finebaum show as a platform to market my books or so forth. I don't have to promote myself there--as "Jim" does.

When I call, I don't spew forth racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, and political BS. Not because I can't, but because no normal person would--but "Jim" does.

When I call, I don't compare myself to famous people. Not because I can't, but because I'm my own person and don't need that kind of fake validation. "Jim" is just like Donald Trump, just like Muhammad Ali, the best writer of Finebaum's articles, a better baseball player than Ted Williams, met Rocky Marciano posthumously, played and beat Joe Namath in basketball--and that's just in the last month.

When I call, I don't call about something completely uninvolved with the purpose of the show--athletics. Not because I can't, but because it's not the proper platform. I don't call Hannity about the Volunteers' defensive front; I don't call Finebaum to prosthelytize about whatever horrific political position Donald Trump has proposed out of ignorance that day--but "Jim" does.

When I call, I appreciate the fact that it's a privilege and not a right to be put through by the call screeners. I don't act as though it's my right and the show owes me something. They don't--but "Jim" thinks they do.

Sometimes in this world, you run into people whose sole purpose is to belittle, insult, and put down other people. They don't do that because they're so superior to the rest of us that they've earned the right to say what they please. They do that because they're so mean and little and lack the self-esteem to stand on their own merits. Or, like asshats, they have no merits. I've been looking for some kind of merit regarding "Jim from Tuscaloosa" for over three years now.  I've yet to find one. Mostly because he has a horrific habit of attacking those people he knows cannot defend themselves against the onslaught of bitterness he throws at them.

And the Finebaum listeners are very frank about how they feel about that.

But I can defend myself and the Finebaum family as well, and I do. And "Jim" despises me as a result, since he has yet to win an encounter with me. And he never will. He can't. I'm secure in my life--happy with my career, happy in my marriage, happy with my girls and their children, happy that at my 'geriatric' age of 49 I have found contentment in my world and hope to share that with the people I associate with. And the one thing "Jim" hates more than anything else is a woman, secure enough in herself and her world, that she has the power to laugh in his face.

I've met a huge group of extraordinary people because of the Paul Finebaum show--people I talk with on a daily basis, whose opinions I respect even if I disagree with them, and whose friendships with me are both cherished and important. I am grateful to Paul and his staff (John and Mark in the control rooms, his always courteous call screeners and the tech crew) because not only are they respectful and kind to almost everyone they encounter during what must be at times a completely irritating four hours, but because through them these disparate personalities from all over the country have helped to build what we call the Finebaum Family. We Tweet, we call each other on the phone, we meet when we're in the same place, and we've created this interlocking base through the show that gives us both enjoyment and comfort. All of these wonderful people are CREATING something.

Asshats like "Jim" can only destroy.

I realize he's a lonely, bitter, little old asshat whose only outlet is to make a fool of himself on national television and radio. I pity him. And I'm grateful because every time the asshat makes a reference to me my website gets more hits, my blog gains new followers, and I sell more books. And since he tells on himself so often, his web of lies just gets easier and easier to shred.

He's played the villain for so long, the asshat's turned himself into prey. It's tragic.

But you know what makes this post great? I am talking about an imaginary person--a man who only exists in his own mind. There is no real "Jim from Tuscaloosa". Now if "Jim" wants to come forward with a picture, his actual identity, and shows me that I've insulted him by his real name on my blog--I'll not only retract this blog post, but I'll apologize to him on the air. Yep--I will call Finebaum and say, "Man, I really made a mistake and I insulted the asshat *insert real name here* falsely on my blog and I'm really sorry."

I'll just sit here and wait.

No really, I'm sure he'll provide me that proof.

I'll be patient.

...waiting...waiting...still waiting...

from USA Today:


“Paul has got the best persona out of anyone I’ve ever seen, including Rush Limbaugh, and you can quote me on that,” said Jim from Tuscaloosa, a longtime Finebaum caller who asked that his last name not be used because of past run-ins with other listeners. “He’s outstanding. Has gravitas.”

Bolding mine. Still waiting, "Jim". Many people I know think he's a character created by the show. He probably is in some ways--a guy who calls in, who's a character, who has no idea that Paul Finebaum is being totally sarcastic and helping "Jim" to make a fool of myself.  He may BE a character--because it's easier to believe that than to believe anyone could be so hate-filled in this day and age. But I think he's being used as a character by the show, and is just not smart enough to realize that. 

Thanks for reading my blog again, asshat. Talk to you on Monday, I'm sure.

Author's note--if you're not smart enough to recognize that this is a satire written for comic purposes, then head on up to the page entitled "Satire and Humor" and take a look at those posts. I'm sure they will enlighten you as to the purposes of a blog post around an imaginary character. *rolls eyes* Fiction writer, people. Fiction.

Friday, June 10, 2016

What We Saw In Louisville Today

So I'm actually going back to the topic of Muhammad Ali, because something extraordinary happened today in Louisville. 

I'd planned to road trip to Louisville for today, actually, but the husband vetoed the idea because I'm currently on bed rest. Which, if you think about it, makes me pretty damn pathetic. Ali would never stay down on the mat. He said it wasn't the place for a champion--a sentiment I agree with. 

But now, I'm glad I stayed at home because I was able to witness something absolutely unprecedented in the streets of Louisville, Kentucky. A funeral cortege for a man who transcended athletics also transcended into a moment of rare unity and celebration in an American city that was witnessed throughout the world. I spent the past four and a half hours chronicling the events on Twitter and during that time interacted with people all over the place--people of different races and ages, affluence and religion. I was talking with a writer friend of mine who was watching it on the BBC in Scotland.

Scotland!

For this one day, politics and social unrest were suspended as the people of Louisville came together in a display of such pure, heartbreaking singularity to share the Champ's last journey through his beloved hometown. 

Today was unprecedented in my lifetime. Many celebrities and athletes and artists and politicians have fallen and been revered by this country. But not like this. 

Crowds lined the streets, tossing flowers at the hearse, chanting "Ali! Ali!" Traffic across the eight lanes of I-64 came to a dead stop as the cortege passed by. Men and women of every possible social identity ran into the street to touch the hearse, to press a kiss against the window. to honor a man who meant so much to so many. 

As the cortege passed by the Ali Multicultural Center, it paused to bring the eyes of the world onto a place that was special to Ali's heart not only because it honored him, but because of the amazing outreach work it does. People were crammed up against the barricades, holding up their kids, calling his name, cell phones or cameras in their hands. 

But when it passed through the streets of Louisville, passing the places where Ali walked as a young Cassius Clay, the whole event became something I never expected. It started with a group of young men whose parents probably were too young to have seen Ali fight live, jogging beside the hearse for blocks in the sweltering June sun. One young man in particular must have stuck with it for a couple of miles--the dude in red refused to give up until the crowd grew too large. Flowers pelted the windshield--most of them red, but then blossoms of all colors--like the people who threw them, of all colors. Older white men ran up to touch the hearse next to young black guys without notice or fear or even a look of suspicion. 

Turns out that the past week in Louisville, the rate of violent crimes has dropped significantly--a silent, unplanned homage to a fighter who preached peace. 

In Ali's childhood neighborhood, an honor guard of Louisville police officers walked on either side of the hearse, but never interfered with anyone approaching the hearse with flowers plucked from their gardens or just to touch the slow-moving hearse and walk away. Considering the celebrities in that cortege, it could have been the direct opposite and probably would have been in any other American city. But this was Louisville saying farewell to their own, and no one dreamed of thinking someone was going to whip out a gun and point it at the famous people in the limos. In fact, the Ali family rolled down their windows, waving to the crowds, taking flowers offered to them by perfect strangers, welcoming the outpouring of love for their patriarch. What an amazing display of coordination and respect on the part of the family, the police force, and the city of Louisville.

And people who yesterday wouldn't have spoken, shared their memories of the Champ today without hesitation or judgement. Tomorrow, their suspicion and distrust might return. 

But not today. 

There were kids--young kids--sitting on top of their parents' cars chanting "Ali! Ali!" Kids who could only have had the faintest idea who Muhammad Ali was as an athlete, and won't know for years what he is as an icon. It was a 21st century American reprise of the Congo. "Ali bomaye! Ali bomaye!" 

How he would have loved it. 

And then all of a sudden there were more people running beside the hearse. Not the media, but old men and young men, white and black and every shade between, Christians and Jews and Muslims--running together in amity and accord. Two young men cruised beside the hearse on hoverboards--HOVERBOARDS, for pete's sake, a vivid reminder of the incredible events Ali's life has spanned. 

And with them ran a young black man in a white hoodie with a gold lame' stripe--no camera, no flowers--a young boxer, running beside the Greatest with his gloves on and shadow boxing like his idol had. 

When the cortege neared the cemetery gates, a huge crowd of people was gathered for that final turn to lay Ali to rest. The driveway was covered with flowers, and the people were chanting, holding up signs, weeping openly. A man ran up and threw an Islamic flag over the right-hand side of the hearse windshield, and a cop moved it with such respect and care over the top of the vehicle--a moment that just does not happen in the America of today. 

I've had several...we'll call them discussions with friends and unknowns alike on social media this week because I unabashedly claim Ali as an idol of mine--a man who symbolizes for me the moments that made me love the world of sports from the time I sat on my dad's knee during the unparalleled fights of the 70s to the lighting of the Olympic torch in the Atlanta 1996 games to the Ali who, although silent and shaking and slowed by Parkinson's who continued to use his influence to raise money for charity, to soothe political turmoil, and to advocate for peace. One of my particular friends, Rich from Atlanta (whose good opinion and thoughts I value almost above anyone else's), argued quite truthfully that Ali's treatment of Joe Frazier was shameful--which it was. Veterans from all kinds of American wars dismissed him as a hero and called him a draft dodger--totally their right. I can't argue with their points of view because they're right. 

But I said and did many things at 25 that made me cringe at 45. And as Ali progressed through his life, and that incredible mouth was silenced, he found ways to make his voice heard throughout the world. And the impact from that resonated today in Louisville. 

We don't have funerals like this in the States. The closest thing I can compare it to is Princess Diana's funeral. But where that was tragic and sorrowful, Muhammad Ali's funeral procession today was more than that--sorrow and joy intermingled, and for one perfect, beautiful early summer day in Louisville, the barriers of race and religion he fought to destroy collapsed beneath the weight of a unity and purpose that he would have appreciated so much. 

And so now, the Greatest is truly gone to his rest. I have this mental image of him looking down on his hometown right now, and although his soul can speak and move and fight without a tremor now in whatever joyous afterlife he's earned, he is still. Quiet. Humbled at last because the whole convoluted, controversial, single-minded purpose of his life spread like a benediction over the city he loved today, proving at last that my favorite Ali quote is unequivocally true. 

I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.--Muhammad Ali

Today, in Louisville, it was a better world. Because all these people came together out of love for Muhammad Ali, today they learned to love each other a little better. 

If we truly wish to honor this man, we should do all we can to make this day turn into weeks, months, years, decades--an Ali peace to wrap across America at last.

Sleep now, Champ. Sleep well.

--text from Hana Ali just a few minutes ago. Had to add this in.