The Great Philosopher Rocky Balboa
I was having lunch with a new friend when I got the e-mail. As I read it, the colour drained from my face, and I started to sweat. I could feel my heart triple-timing it. A look of concern spread across my friend’s face, and she asked me if everything was okay. I lied and told her I was fine – just a little crisis at the bank, I said.
Except, the crisis wasn’t all that little. I’d just sold my home in Vancouver, and the bank was informing me that the penalty they would be charging for paying off my mortgage early would be FOUR times what I thought. That tiny sliver of profit I’d hoped to see from the sale, the profit that would cover all my debts and let me walk away with a feeling that at least I didn’t owe anyone anything…gone, baby, gone. I was selling my house to ease my financial burdens, but now that the papers are signed, I feel as burdened as I was before. So it would seem that, thanks to my bank, I have just sold my biggest asset for no good reason. When I suggested this to my banker, she was indifferent. When I used to come into the bank, she’d greet me as though I was Norm Peterson on the TV show Cheers, but now she says things like “Those are the rules. You should’ve been prepared for this”. There you have it: happy to give you an umbrella when it’s sunny, but demanding it back at the first drop of rain.
The worst part is she’s right, I didn’t do my arithmetic properly. I knew they were going to take something in this deal, I just didn’t think they would take so much, because now it feels like more than just money. I needed a little relief – one tiny break, something that’s lets me catch my breath. I used to expect a lot from life, but right now I’d give anything simply to believe that at some point, hard times will end. That’s all I want, but it feels like that part of my hope has been stolen, and I am complicit in this theft by virtue of my of erroneously-optimistic math skills. I can accept that my ex-girlfriend no longer finds me lovable. I can accept that employers treat me like a toxic asset. This, though, feels perilously close to my one thousandth cut.
I’ve now joined that not-so-elite fraternity of people who are familiar with the indifference of banks and other vicissitudes of adulthood. It’s about time, really. As being a grown-up goes, I was always something of a fraud. I’m not unhappily married, I’m not raising offspring who will one day resent me. I’ve hated a boss or two in my day, but the sheer absurdity of what I did to make money made such complaints seem ludicrous. So when the bank gave me my first mortgage it felt downright larcenous, as if I’d tricked those foolish bankers with my boyish charisma. Of course, there was also the matter of a steady income, a hot real estate market and low interest rates, but the logic of their decision was obscured by my own incredulity, not of them but of myself, an adult imposter. I kind of liked that feeling, but I assure you it is gone. Nothing makes me feel more “grown-up” quite like having no job, no partner, no prospects, no home and no sympathy from bankers who once seemed so happy to help me.
Now, whose words do I call upon for comfort at this time? Jesus, Siddartha Gautama, perhaps? Do I read from The Prophet, or the Bhagavad Gita? Maybe seek solace in entreatments to plucky endurance from men such as Churchill? Nope. In the midst of all this I’m stuck on the words of…Rocky Balboa.
Bear with me here. We all know his story, told beautifully in Rocky and Rocky II, then with increasing vulgarity in parts III through V. The easy thing would be to embrace the first two excellent films and try to ignore the remaining terrible ones. However, If you want to take a measure of this man’s character, you have to consider all the films in their entirety. Those first two films were all about heart. The middle three searched for it in vain. Rocky III, IV, and V were seduced by their own success, and tried to re-heat the original formula over and over. In so doing they sacrificed authenticity, casting a pall over the simple wonder of the original two. If I had to equate my life to Rocky’s, I’d place myself somewhere around Rocky V, when the Champ returns from Communist Russia having bested Ivan Drago only to find all the trappings of success have been taken from him, (no doubt from bankers who once sought out his company). It was a hollow attempt to return Rocky to his hardscrabble roots. Of all five films, Rocky V was the most pandering and the least enjoyable. That’s exactly how I feel today.
However, I can’t help but think that Rocky needed those middle three movies to be terrible, to be filled with superficial excess and robbed of the quiet humility of the originals. Otherwise we wouldn’t get to the poignant final act that is Rocky Balboa, the sixth and (hopefully) last film in the franchise. Rocky started out with nothing, had everything, and then lost it all, only to realize that (with the exception of Adrian, who dies of cancer) he still has all the stuff that matters, such as his dignity and his personal code. What he’s re-discovers by the end is the authenticity that defined the first two pictures, and that is unquestionably the most valuable thing he has ever had . It’s what gives meaning to these words he says to his adult son:
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
Today, I cling to those words like Kate Winslet to a life preserver, although I rue what will have to happen to me next in order for me to say the same thing with as much feeling. Still, it’s odd where you find the motivation you need to keep your shit together, isn’t it?