Eulogy For A Centenarian

At over 100 years old, consider the lifetime of my Great Aunt Audrey who died this evening.

She married Bill, the Reverend William Dodd, after he turned her head delivering a sermon in the convent hospital that was her work and home. They were happily married for many years as he ran his parish in Gloucestershire. He died some twenty-five to thirty years ago, as part of that five year spell in my late teens that I look back on as the great purge of their generation. Somehow she survive the purge. And survived and survived. Sadly she survived with a diminishing amount of memory.

Dementia is a cruel disease. Your personality, your life, slips away, yet life itself goes on.

What memories Auntie Audrey must have lost. The personal ones, Me, Bill, the many parishioners she cared for in lieu of the children she never had. But what of the others, the century of incredible change and history?

The Great War, the rise of communism, Spanish ‘flu, Irish partition, the rise of Nazism, the Second World War, the holocaust, the establishment of the NHS,the Abdication of a King, the death of a King, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, The Beatles, JFK… You get the idea. If you don’t get the idea, try listening to the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (a bit US orientated, but it gives a long list).

The last century has seen so much change Great Auntie Audrey left a world that bore no similarity to the one in which she was born. Tonight my family lost her, but our world has lost so much in the time she lived. Valuable things. We ought to hold on to the things we value. They may not just happen, we have to make the effort to retain them.

Remember.

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Goodbye, Muhammad Ali – The Greatest

Goodbye Muhammad Ali, my hero.

I'm gonna show you how great I am.

I’m gonna show you how great I am.

It’s been a long time coming, but the King is dead.
Opponents of boxing will crow of a great man brought low by a disease caused by the sport he loved. But they will not only be flying in the face of medical evidence (many non-boxers get Parkinson’s and many boxers don’t) but they’ll be be missing the point. There are stories that show Ali was a man to be admired regardless of boxing.

Principle over expedience.

In 1967, after being World Champion for 3 years, Ali put his principles ahead of his career and refused to be conscripted to fight in Vietnam. He knew he’d be barred from the sport he loved and had given his life to. But, declaring that “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘nigger’,” he simply didn’t believe in that fight. The New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. It’d be three years before he could box again. For all his speeches, all his goading of opponents, Ali always recognised that there were thousands of others who took the same stand.

If he hadn’t been a boxer.

During an interview, Michael Parkinson asked him what he would’ve been if he hadn’t been a boxer. Ali answered that he didn’t know, but whatever he’d have been, he’d have been the best at it. “If I’d been a garbage man, I’d have emptied more garbage cans that anyone else.” He believed that being the best was just a matter of who was most dedicated, who committed themselves most completely to the goal. Nothing was out of reach.

Ali was the greatest, not because he was a boxer, but because of his attitude to the things he did. He gave 100% to achieve his goals. Not some idiotic x-factor-esque hyperbole of “110%, Simon”, but he set a goal and focussed his endeavours on that goal. If something wouldn’t contribute to the goal, he didn’t do it. If something would, he’d give it everything he had.

That’s why as a man and an inspiration, he wasn’t diminished one iota by his Parkinson’s Disease. It was just another opponent to be vanquished with a thirty years-long rope-a-dope.

  1. Be principled.
  2. Give it 100%.

I’ll finish with one of his best known quotes. The final piece of the puzzle.

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.
Impossible is not a fact: it’s an opinion.
Impossible is not a declaration: it’s a dare.
Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who prefer to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact: it’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration: It’s a dare. Impossible is potential, impossible is temporary, impossible is nothing.

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who prefer to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact: it’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration: It’s a dare. Impossible is potential, impossible is temporary, impossible is nothing.