My dad was speaking to me the other day about Muhammad Ali of all things. In a visit to Louisville, my dad had been impressed with the Ali museum and was encouraging me to visit it upon my next trip to Louisville.
I won’t though, partially because I don’t visit Louisville aside from that one time I did, but even more so because I care little for Muhammad Ali. Yes, sir, you keep on floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee over there and I’ll be over here watching TV, I imagine myself saying upon making Ali’s acquaintance at the pinnacle of his existence. It just isn’t for me.
But I do like one mythical anecdote that features the famous boxer and his infamous ego. He was flying some such place that Mother Nature apparently didn’t desire him, or the other passengers, to go. The plane rocked about the clouds, pelted by rain and colored with blazes of lightning. It would have been beautiful from a distance of course, but there in the middle of it, panic ensued. This hubbub of distress was worsened, as is always the case, by the captain’s soothing tones, “We are experiencing moderate turbulence. We ask that all passengers fasten their seatbelts immediately.”
Yep, it just got real. If you have ever been in a jouncing plane, you know what I mean. When the captain wakes from his presumed slumber to voice concern–even if voiced as calmly as possible–well, you better begin writing your will and confessing your sins.
On this flight, that was the feeling as passengers began to weep and pray and, certainly, buckled their safety belts: for a last hopeful reassurance if nothing else.
Well, Ali was on that flight unmoved. He sat unflinching until a flight attendant–surely a “stewardess” in that day and age–approached him and reminded him to put on his safety belt.
His response: “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”
The flight attendant reportedly answered: “Superman don’t need no plane either.”
No, I won’t go to the museum there in Louisville because such a thing doesn’t interest me. But what I will do is look at the world about me and wonder if we haven’t become “Superman,” at least in our own mind. Perhaps we have taken all the calamity about us–the pelting rain and blazing lightning–and shrugged in spite of it all, telling ourselves that we will rise above it or defeat it or make it out alive. We will float on and sting on and live on.
Except that we won’t.
It just may be the time to buckle up and begin to realize our own fallibility. Our politics, our deeds, our tepid, man-centered religion, our philosophies cannot save us. Nothing in and of ourselves can, yet we strive on ignoring the doom piling up all around us.
I cannot figure out this world enough to solve its ills. But I do know myself well enough to know the answer does not lie there. I don’t have a puncher’s chance in this fight. Really, none of us does, save one. And it isn’t Superman. Or Muhammad Ali. Or whatever pilot we’ve elected or followed or re-tweeted.
For now, I’m gonna heed the captain’s orders. I’m gonna sit, buckled and praying, knowing full well what my hope is built upon.