November 9, 2009

About a month ago, Evander Holyfield shook hands with Mike Tyson on Oprah. It turns out they’d known each other a long time, even before Tyson bit his ear off. They had crossed paths as teenagers, when both were rising fighters, and Tyson revealed that he had always admired Evander Holyfield. Tyson got choked up. He put out his hand and said, “It’s been a pleasure to be acquainted with you all these years,” or something just as peculiar and Tysonesque.

The moment stood out because it was clear that Holyfield is a Christian. He is magnanimous and robust. He appeared to get along with Tyson without making a display of forgiveness, something for which we can all give Holyfield credit. Watching Holyfield watch Tyson, I was stuck by the shininess, the nobility, one is afforded by being a Christian. I was reminded of Holyfield’s appearance on an episode of Judge Hatchett: he was there to guide an errant youth back to virtue, and he did so with untroubled charisma.

I suspect that Holyfield knows something about following The Path. He had to put on pounds in order to fight as a heavyweight, which is always dangerous. It requires fearlessness, and discipline beyond the discipline required even for unremarkable boxing. But Holyfield did it and thrived. He succeeded as a heavyweight, presumably with the same aplomb and faith that led him to Oprah’s studio.

What a contrast to witness Tyson beside him, round where Holyfield is square, eccentric in his speech while Holyfield is confident and platitudinous. The moment stood out because it was clear that Tyson is far, far too complicated to be a monotheist. It’s true he embraced Islam in prison, but he has since moved away from that orthodoxy. Perhaps he has moved away from all orthodoxy; perhaps that is the source of total aloneness one sees in Tyson. The man draws paradoxes to himself, congenitally, but he seems to be familiar with them now. He regards them with only a dim suspicion, the kind I might have for a cockroach in the attic that got too big.

I imagine these suspicions make it hard for to Tyson to accept a savior into his life. It requires submission. It requires belief in a messianic force that is supposed to have been on its way for thousands of years. I imagine such notions give Mike Tyson pause. Where is the higher law in his life? He is ineligible for the stillness that continues to make Evander Holyfield handsome and pacific. Mike Tyson is barred from having those things.

Nevertheless, the record shows: on Oprah that day with Holyfield, Tyson put his hand out first.

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