“I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others.” Muhammad Ali said those words and he lived by them. He became an extraordinary man and a person we can all look up to and learn from. Believing in yourself is a vital part of living an extraordinary life. But the second part of what he said is even more freeing: believe in the goodness of others.
Sometimes I forget that it’s not all about me. My challenges. My successes. My difficulties. When I catch myself with that kind of thinking – with the aid of my little sticky notes – I remind myself to focus on other people. Ah, it’s like a breath of fresh air. I relax, turn my attention to the goodness of others and say my little prayers of gratitude.
I’ve been blessed with an incredibly diverse and loving family. Let me tell you about my grandson Sam. He’s a very smart 20-year-old, a happy guy, talks a lot, laughs a lot, works at Subway in Denver, Colorado. Thank goodness he’s alive during this time in our history, rather than when I grew up. Ali also said, “I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man. I had to show the world.” Sam is black.
A little more about my family? This is a true story that happened to my father in the early 1970s. His name was Nicholas Bilansky and he came to the United States from Czechoslovakia when he was 19 years old. He started his own business as a shoemaker, married my mother and raised three kids in a loving household.
Daddy loved heavyweight boxing matches and revered the champions. I remember as a child going to the local beer garden with my parents and sister and brother. We would sit in the back room with other families listening to the championship fight on the radio. We kids had fun sipping soda and coloring in our coloring books or playing games. Daddy was glued to the radio – he didn’t want to miss a word.
Even after I grew up and left home, Daddy was in awe of heavyweight champions so imagine his excitement when Muhammad Ali walked into his shop one day. Ali had just set up his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, a small hamlet about ten miles from where we lived in Pottsville.
“I hear you’re the best shoemaker around and that you could put weights in my boots so I can strengthen my legs, and that you could do that for about fifty dollars,” Ali said to my father – in just those words. I know the exact words because the story has been told hundreds of times in our family.
“I no can do,” my father told him in his broken English while shaking his head from side to side. Yet he was so thrilled he could hardly contain his enthusiasm and excitement.
“What?!” Ali exclaimed. “I was told you’re the best shoemaker in Pottsville. And you tell me you can’t put weights in my boots for about fifty dollars!”
“I no can do,” my father told him again. “I do for twenty-five dollars!”
And he did. Ali gave him fifty dollars anyway.
Muhammad Ali died last Friday, June 3. His was a rewarding yet often difficult life, but I’m grateful that he paved the way for others like my grandson and gave Daddy a story he told proudly for the rest of his life.
So today, as I turn my attention to the goodness of others, I’m going to do it in honor of Muhammad Ali.