The Amazing Randomness of Life

By Tony L. Sheppard, Psy.D., CGP, FAGPA

As I sit here at my desk listening to WFPL's look back at the life of boxing legend, humanitarian, and Louisvillian Muhammad Ali, I'm doing my own reflection. Ali's funeral procession is literally winding its way through Louisville as I type this. As a graduate of Spalding University's School of Professional Psychology, I'm struck by the little-known role that a building on campus, a bicycle, and a police officer played in the life of Ali. It is a lesson, I believe, in the amazing randomness of life!

The story goes that a young Cassius Clay had his bike stolen in front of the Columbia Auditorium (now the University Center for Spalding). Part-time boxing trainer and Louisville policeman Joe Martin heard Clay's complaint and advised him to learn to fight before he tried to "whup" the culprit. Clay became a regular at the gym and this launched his career. A seemingly random meeting of two people that changed the course of a boy's life and our history.

Chance meetings result in all sorts of relationships in our lives. Even if they don't launch championship boxing careers, they lead to marriages, life-long friendships, etc. Sometimes they don't necessarily result in an ongoing relationship but they become pivotal memories. Everyone can recall people they chatted with on a bus or train that sparked something. I'm reminded of a helpful conversation with a janitor in the basement of the psychology building at Spalding following my father's death. I'm grateful for neighbors who have become friends. 

As we mourn the loss of Ali, I'm reminded of the importance of maintaining an open mind with regard to relationships. One never knows what lies around the corner. A delayed flight, unexpected detour, or a stolen bike could change our lives. There is a little red bicycle hanging from the University Center building in memory of Ali. I hope that bike becomes a symbol of the potential of chance meetings to alter the course of our lives.