Exit Stage Right
I guess the hardest thing for a famous actor, actress or celebrities to do is get off of the stage. This is especially true when they know it is their last appearance. I remember seeing Johnny Carson’s final show. He had the forethought to give his audience notice in advance that this would be his last show. It was expertly planned with a combination of the here and now and highlights from shows past. Watching the show brought laughter and tears to his audience as they enjoyed the memories of the past while also realizing that there would be no new memories. It was a time of reflection and Johnny was at his best. He was candid, funny, and very reflective of the 30 plus years that he was the host and star of the Tonight Show.
Muhammad Ali was a Heavyweight Boxer the likes that nobody had seen before. He had speed like a lightweight and he developed a style of hitting without getting hit. It was his quick reflexes as he could pull his head back just as his opponents were trying to throw their knockout blows. Almost all of the time they ended up only hitting air. In 1967 Ali was banned from boxing for refusing to be inducted into the army. His Heavyweight Title was stripped and for 3 and a half years he was not allowed to fight. Then in 1970 he was given a license to fight in Georgia. Ali was still good when he returned but he wasn’t the fighter he used to be. Subsequent matches he started to get hit. When he fought Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight crown in 1971 he was hit like never before. No longer was he able to get out of the way every time. Joe knocked him down in the 15th round and kept his Heavyweight championship.
Ali persevered after that fight and for 3 years he chased another chance to claim the Heavyweight Title. Finally in 1974 he got his chance. George Foreman was now the Heavyweight champion after defeating Frazier the year before. Ali was a big underdog but he used his ring savvy to tire Foreman out and get his title back. Ali had hinted before the fight that this would be the perfect way for him to leave the stage. Ten years after winning the title to regain it against such a powerful foe. However after he won he wouldn’t quit.
Ali fought Joe Frazier for the third time in 1975 and although he won the fight it took it’s toll on both him and Frazier. It was finally time to get out with his health in tact but Ali kept fighting even though his best days were long passed. He was getting hit and was lucky enough to barely keep his title in some controversial decisions. In 1978 he fought a rookie boxer named Leon Spinks who had 8 professional fights at the time. Ali had not trained properly for the fight and Spinks won the decision and the title. Later that year in a rematch Ali won his title back from Spinks. Finally Ali retired and left the stage. Ali loved the limelight and surely he missed being the center of attention. The next year he announced that he was coming back to get his title. The fight with Larry Holmes didn’t go well. Ali was hit like a punching bag showing none of his old talents. He fought one more time and lost again before he finally admitted that he was through. It was sad watching him fight at the end when there was nothing left but the memories of what used to be.
Like Ali we are given a time in the spotlight in life. Ecclesiates chapter 3 mentions that there is a time for everything.
Ecclesiastes 3 New International Version (NIV)
A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
One of the hardest to deal with is the time to die. When Carson walked off of the stage for the last time he knew that his time in the limelight was up. He dealt with it by planning his show and making a great memory at the end. Unlike Ali at the end we only remember the extraordinary talent that he had without a slippage in later shows. The same lesson can be learned from the end of life. Although we will be missed we have the power to make it more of a joyous occasion instead of a sad episode with no hope. As Christians we need to remember that this is not our home. When our time is up there is no need to keep fighting. That is why so many people die very peacefully. They know that they are going to a place far better!
I have a friend whose mother was dying. At Christmas time all of the family decided they would write her a letter telling her how much she meant to them. Later my friend mentioned that the thinking was all backwards. They should have had her write a letter to each of them. It would be a letter like the letters somebody used for the meaning of the B I B L E which was Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.