I have a friend who never fails to miss an opportunity. Although talented and possessing charisma, at age 45 he is still single and without a steady job. Occasionally, he asks me for a loan and I give him small pocket change; but his life, on the whole, is a mess.
At age 42, he decided to leave his regular job and explore becoming a real estate agent in Chicago where he was born and raised, but now he has neither job nor steady income. Instead, he has lots of stress and an unpredictable paycheck.
A year ago, he had a chance to take a high-paying job in the hotel industry where his superior people skills would in all likelihood make him successful, but he hesitated. In the interim, the job was offered to someone else and his job prospects turned increasingly bleak. I thought about him as I watched Rocky, a film about a loser who has the good sense not to let a one-time opportunity pass.
Rocky is an iconic story because it touches on the insecurities of every man who is mired in a mediocre reality, but who wants more out of life. Rocky serendipitously is given a moment when he can change his life for the better and he takes advantage of it, and that decision makes him an inspiration for many.
We first meet Rocky in November of 1975 as a small time fighter and collector for a local loan shark in a seedy neighborhood in Philadelphia. He is a man with no prospects. But fortune shines on him when the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, needs a replacement for the boxer who has dropped out of a glamorous New Year’s title defense because of a hand injury. Apollo turns to a local underdog with the flashy pseudonym of “the Italian Stallion,” to generate interest in the fight, and so Rocky Balboa has his chance of a lifetime to come out of obscurity and into the limelight.
The Ethics of the Fathers, a classic of Jewish wisdom literature, reminds us that a person should never disparage another man, for every man has his hour. Although Rocky is at first dismissed by many who see him as a failure in life, who never capitalized on his talents, they reassess him when he reinvents himself as a serious contender for the title.
No longer casual about his training, he realizes what is at stake and resolves to go the distance with Apollo. All this happens because Rocky is blessed with a mentor, Mickey Goldmill, who initially calls Rocky a bum but then has a change of heart and mind, visioning Rocky as a potential champ who simply needs to get rid his old habits and rededicate himself to the sport of boxing. It is this mentoring that makes all the difference. Rocky understands that he does not know everything and that he needs guidance, which is the first step to self-knowledge. Under Mickey’s guidance, Rocky emerges as a real threat to Apollo, and what subsequently happens is the stuff of boxing legend.
Rocky has lots to recommend it. It reminds us to appreciate the talents that God has given us and to use them to become the best that we can be in spite of setbacks and limitations. Furthermore, it encourages us to find a mentor, who will give us the wisdom to make good life decisions. It is noteworthy that Ethics of the Fathers specifically recommends that we acquire a teacher. This is a priority in a world that can be confusing and damaging to us if we insist on going it alone.