The Spiritual Practice of Movie Watching: ROCKY

I watched the movie Rocky again this past week.  I love Rocky. I’m not much of a Sylvester Stallone fan. I don’t care for boxing. I don’t really like any of the other Rocky movies and I think Rocky would be better today without them, but I LOVE Rocky.  

Rocky was the first non-children’s movie that I ever saw. After debating if it was appropriate or not for me to see it, my parents agreed I could see it and my dad took me. I was ten years old.  I loved it! My dad had to explain to me what Tony Gazzo was and what exactly Rocky did for him. He also had to explain the ending to me.

I was near tears when Rocky didn’t win. “He didn’t win?!?” I said to my dad, part question, part disbelief, and part anger adding up to total astonishment.  “No,” said my dad. He let me sulk while we walked to the car. On the drive home he told me why Rocky didn’t win the fight. “You know how I tell you it’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game?”  I knew. My dad was always saying that. “Well,” he continued, “That’s what the movie was about. It’s not about whether Rocky won or lost the fight. The movie is about trying to do your best.” Then he said another thing he was always saying – something I hated because he said it so much, something I can barely force myself to type now because I found so irritating then – “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better best.”  And as much as it irritated me when dad said that, that’s what the movie is about. And that’s what life is about. Just doing your best.

More than forty years down the road and having been through a few fights of one type or another in my own life, I am finally learning Rocky’s (and dad’s lesson).  All you can do is your best. Sometimes even your best won’t be good enough, but there’s no dishonor or shame in getting beat. There is, however, a world of heartbreak in not giving your best effort and then spending time, even years or the rest of your life, in the no-man’s land of regret, “what if” echoing in your ears.   

Just giving your best is a noble accomplishment all its own.  What amounts to the best we can manage changes day to day, hour to hour. And only we know if we truly gave it all we had in any particular instance.   At the end of the fight, Rocky knows – He KNOWS – he gave it his best. There it is, so easy to miss when I was a child, so impossible to miss now. As the fight ends, the crowd swarms the ring and reporters shove mics in his face, but Rocky shouts for Adrian. The decision is rendered, but it’s buried in the audio mix while Adrian’s “Rocky – ROCKY – ROCKY!!!” grows louder each time she says it and Rocky’s “ADRIAN!” rise in the mix above everything else.  Rocky did win. He gave his best and he loves Adrian and she loves him. And that’s how it ends. “I love you” are the final words.  

I’m not a boxing fan. I don’t really get a sport where the object is to physically beat on your opponent so that they can’t continue.  But I’m a fan of Love. And I especially love stories that remind us, after everything – after it’s all said and done – that Love wins.  Love always wins. And Love, above all else, demands we give it our best.

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