April 11, 2012
I recently heard a story of a little girl who was playing with her inflatable “Bop bag” toy. Each time she struck the toy it would head to the floor, only to rebound to the upright position immediately, as is the nature of the toy. With each ensuing punch, the result was the same. Down the Bop bag would go, and right back up it would return, as though awaiting her next best shot. Meanwhile from an adjoining room, the little girl’s mother was watching. With tongue in cheek, she asked her daughter, “Why do you think the Bop bag keeps coming back up?” Her daughter’s answer was; “There is something strong inside it.” Out of the mouths of babes.
In the first of the “Rocky” movie series, Rocky Balboa is depicted as somewhat of a patsy, when not in the boxing ring. He is a good-hearted person, somewhat gullible. In his efforts to steer one neighborhood youth in the right direction, he is reviled rather than revered. When Rocky meets Adrienne, who would one day become his wife, he soon finds purpose. He would no longer be fighting for himself, but for another. His good heart, now had someone who appreciated it. His heart was no longer his alone, but Adrienne’s as well. Life’s jaded dross that surrounded his heart of gold, is now burned away by purifying love. For the first time in his life he feels complete. He who fought the least in his sport, is now ready to stand toe to toe with its champions.
In the last installment of the Rocky series, we find Rocky, a shadow of his former self. Burdened, not only by age, but the void left by the recent passing of Adrienne, and a growing distance between he and his son. As many former sports greats, Rocky is an owner of a restaurant. When not visiting Adrienne’s grave, he is at the restaurant, posing for pictures, signing autographs and reliving his greatest moments as a fighter, for the entertainment of his patrons. His estranged son is bearing his own cross, as he mourns the loss of his mother, and struggles to find his own identity, as the son of a celebrity. He often is not addressed by his own name, Robert, but rather, as “Rocky’s boy.”
As in all of the Rocky movies, an opportunity comes out of the blue, providing him with a test, as a means to overcome his present life dilemma. That opportunity, would be an exhibition match headlined as a fight between a retired champion, noted for his lion’s heart in the ring, and the present youthful champion, in search of his. Rocky accepts, because he hopes he can fill the void left by his lost love and regain the respect of his son. Robert, however, spurns his father’s endeavor. He expresses his embarrassment, not solely in terms of his father not acting his age, but Rocky’s renewed popularity would further hinder his (Robert’s) goal of independence and finding his own identity. Rocky realizes his son’s resentment is due to a selfish fear. The fear that he will not measure up to his job, nor earn the acceptance of his colleagues. Rocky, in an example of tough love, let’s Robert know, in no uncertain terms, that he is a unique and valuable person. That he doesn’t have to measure up to someone else’s opinion of him. He further tells Robert, what he already knows. “That life is hard, and nothing in this world, is going to hit as hard as life.” “It will beat you down, and keep you there, if you let it.” “What’s most important; is not how hard you can hit back, but rather, how hard you can be hit and keep getting up, keep moving forward.” They part, leaving Robert, with something to think about, and a request, “be sure to visit your mother.” The next day Rocky finds Robert at Adrienne’s grave. There Robert tells him he has quit his job. Rocky feels terrible and that he didn’t intend for that to happen. Robert assures Rocky that the job was never really for him, and has come to realize he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. Here is where he wanted to be for now, in his father’s corner. Figuratively, where he had not been for some time.
There is always a moment of truth in a Rocky movie. The exhibition match mutates into a battle of wills. It is late in the fight. A fatigued and bloodied Rocky goes down, seemingly for the last time, after a flurry of punches from the much younger champion. Rocky wearily looks to his corner where his son is pleading with him to stay down. Robert tells him he has done enough. He doesn’t want his father to be seriously hurt or worse. He’s lost enough in his mother’s passing, he feels he couldn’t bear losing his father, with whom he has just been reconciled, and desperately loves. However, Rocky knows that he has to finish. The door of doubt and regret is left ajar, by the task not completed. Then the familiar sound of the ringside bell,.. CLANG! CLANG!! CLANG!!! As the music intensifies, Rocky’s words to his son reverberates in his head and heart; GET UP! GET UP!! His opponent, and all there present, gaze with admiration and disbelief, as Rocky continues the fight to the end. The young champion, winning by decision, achieves rejuvenation of his own waning heart. Rocky has healed himself and those who love him, each in their own unique way, by his refusal to give up or give in. The words to his son, on that night prior to the fight, would have been meaningless, if he had heeded the plea, to throw in the towel.
So, what is your trial? What is the obstacle before you? What problem weighs you down? Trials are to be endured, then overcome. Obstacles are to be analyzed, then circumvented. Problems, in the light of common sense and persistence, can be solved. As with the little girls’ opinion, regarding the Bop bag’s resilience, and the substance of Rocky’s story; that “something strong inside,” is in us, as well. What is that “something”, that commands; GET UP!? What is it for you? I know what it is for me. Perhaps, it is one and the same, for all.