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Ali the Superhero

In my older years working in Africa, one of the drivers in the office, Ali, fell ill. I would like to tell you his inspiring story.

A Superman cape hung up on a clothesline

Not all superheroes wear capes and not all superheroes wear capes that can be seen with the naked eye (Shawn Humphrey/Huffpost)

After a few months, Ali was put on long term disability. On a late Friday afternoon, my assistant came into my office and told me that Ali wanted to speak to me. She wanted to know if I would take Ali’s call and if it was OK to schedule it. I remember telling her to schedule it for next week, but she said Ali wanted to speak to me immediately and on an urgent matter. The call was placed and sadly Ali told me he was dying. Ali said the doctors told him he didn’t have much time left. Ali said, he was on morphine and he wasn’t in excruciating pain. I remember asking Ali how I could help. Ali said the only thing he wanted was for me to expedite his death benefits when he passed. Ali said, he wanted his wife to pay off the remaining mortgage on their home and that this would give him peace of mind. I asked Ali if I could assist further and very humbly, he said, “no”.

A few days later my assistant notified me that Ali had passed. I made sure to do everything I could to expedite Ali’s death benefits. When everything was processed, I decided to go to Ali’s house to give his widow his benefits check in person. When my driver became aware that I was going to Ali’s house, he approached me. He said, maybe it’s better for his widow to come to your office and that Ali didn’t live in the best part of town. But, I insisted on going. Driving through what seemed like endless city slums, we arrived at Ali’s home. My assistant had given me the names of Ali’s four children, all of them teens or older. I tried to memorise their names from the notes I had as I approached Ali’s house. When I walked into Ali’s very humble home, their must have been at least 20 people there. They had food and drinks set up for my arrival. Everyone was wearing their Sunday best. His wife greeted me at the door. She told me to have a seat in Ali’s old chair.

Everyone surrounded me. I asked Ali’s wife to introduce me to his children. All four of them approached me one by one and shook my hand. Their ages ranged from 15 to 23. I asked Ali’s widow who the others were in the room. I was introduced to five other children whose ages ranged from 3 to 10 years old. Each one of them hugged me with their little frail arms. I inquired who these children were, and his widow said they were Ali’s brothers kids. Apparently, Ali’s brother had died in a work place accident leaving behind his 5 little children who Ali adopted.

Ali’s widow explained that after his brother died, the family could no longer maintain their household so they all moved in with them, including Ali’s brother’s widow. And, Ali was the sole breadwinner among them. On a meager salary, Ali was raising 9 kids, and supporting his brother’s widow as well. Ali’s widow cried when I gave her the check. They all did. Ali was their hero, he provided for all of them and in death he was giving them the security of owning their house.

I asked Ali’s widow if his pension could sustain them all. Teary eyed, she nodded, yes. I knew she wasn’t being truthful. She also told me that Ali’s oldest son had finished his studies, and that he was looking for work. She said, when he finds a job, he would also help with their expenses.

Through out the rest of my time with them, I couldn’t imagine how Ali carried this burden, how he was able to put all of these kids through school and university. But apparently, Ali sacrificed everything towards that goal. It was clear Ali lived for them allowing no excesses for himself.

Back in my car, I started realizing how much of a hero Ali was and to so many. Ali made me realize that a hero is somebody who is selfless, who cares more about others than himself, who just tries to give as much as possible to help his family. In everything Ali did for his family, all those heroic things, he proved that the word hero is not a noun, it's a verb.

Ali taught me that a hero is a man who just doesn’t give everything he has to the people he loves, within his financial limits, but he finds a way to exceed those limits He doesn’t do just what he can, he does more, he does the impossible.

Mantle’s regrets in life were that he wanted to hit a ball farther, and more often. Hawking’s regrets were never being able to walk to the pub and philander with his friends. Ali, in his dying days, expressed no regrets to me, his colleagues, or his loved ones. Ali had the mortgage fully paid off for his family and that seemed to bring him the peace he was seeking.

After a life time of looking for a hero, and with my sincerest apologies to Mantle and Hawking, I found Ali. It was Ali who taught me that the definition of a real hero is a person who is selfless in life and in death, and who no two people would disagree was a kind, generous and decent human being. It is with these attributes, that when you close your eyes forever, you can do so with no regrets. And, in a final twist of fate, it was Ali’s son who was recruited to replace his father as one of our office drivers. We’re lucky to have him, the son of a super hero.



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