And, in a time when we sorely need heroes, our nation mourns the passing of one of our most famous: Mohammad Ali.
His story was an inspirational one. His rise from humble beginnings, the skill and courage of a warrior forming in the soul of an angry young man growing up in angry times when the struggle against injustice demanded courage and willingness to sacrifice. And, he displayed both. When he threw his gold medal into the river rather than accept an award from a nation that denied equality to his people. When he discarded an athletic career rather than submit to conscription into a war he did not believe in. When he fought to get that career back, and won. Truly an inspirational figure to all Americans. To the world, perhaps.
And, of course, to writers. Especially writers of dramatic fiction who wish we could create characters formed from the stuff of reality, characters who touch the hearts of our readers and inspire them half as much as the real-life heroes of the real world. It's the real-world heroes who seem larger than life who seem to inspire us the most.
Perhaps even more remarkable is what those heroes reveal of the soul of the nation that embraces them. Mohammad Ali perhaps most of all. Admired for his courage, his spirit and his showmanship (the three things Americans value above all else) he represented the American soul in many ways. The irony...and, the wonder of his rise to iconic fame...was that he embodied many things that Americans have trained themselves to loathe and revile. He defied his government in time of war. "The true enemy of my people is here, not in Vietnam," he dared to say. He embraced Islam and called his Christian name a "slave name." He seemed to brazenly spit in the face of American chauvinism and blind, jingoistic nationalism. In short, he forced Americans to question and analyze the short-comings of our society, of our failure to live up to our national creed of justice. We are not a nation that readily accepts criticism, least of all from our own citizens. We consider ourselves too great, too wonderful for such rebuke. Yet, we embraced a man like Mohammad Ali as a true American icon. He changed our collective way of thinking, shattered our national complacency. At least, he embodied a wave of history that did that. And, that's what a truly inspirational figure does.
As writers, we try to create such larger-than-life characters. Characters our target audience can not only care about, but draw inspiration from. Hopefully in a way that challenges their presumptions instead of reinforcing them. Not easy, but we go on trying. And, we remember those who inspired us along the way.