The past week has been dreary. Life hasn’t been as we have known it to be. Many are working from home, or are simply at home. This is nothing like we’ve seen before. We have been invited to practice social distancing and washing our hands thoroughly, among many other practices geared towards our own safety. My amazement has been with the word social distancing. It is a phrase that has a new meaning for me. It feels like a constraint on me. I met one of our parishioners at the BJs gas station off Dobbin Road, and this is a parishioner whom I am used to shaking his hands and giving him a hug. But this time, none of that happened. We stood at a distance from each other as we talked. He had with him a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and the nearest I got to him was when he invited me to stretch my hand in order to use some.
In a very real way, we all find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Our health experts have done a very great job alerting us to the dangers that lay ahead, and the kind of precautionary measures that we need to take in order to mitigate the spread of this pandemic. As part of our precautionary measures we have abridged the office hours from 10:00-3:00 p.m. and eliminated any interaction between staff. We are livestreaming Morning Prayer at 7:00 a.m. and Evening Prayer at 7:00 p.m. on Facebook. We will continue to share additional information as the days go by. In as much as we want to still live like we’re all used to, the reality is that for the foreseeable future, this will be our new normal - life between a rock and a hard place.
I have no idea that, if in choosing a name for the movie Rocky, Sylvester Stallone thought about his life as being a metaphor for the movie. He had acted in the movie The Lords of Flatbush, which wasn’t very successful, but he continued to ply his acting trade in New York with the hope of hitting the jackpot. He tells the story of being broke, very broke, to the extent that he tried to sell his dog because he couldn’t feed that dog.
He tells the story of seeing a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, where Wepner fought the greatest champion of all time for fifteen rounds and knocked him down. Although Wepner lost the bout, it nonetheless became a motivation for Stallone. He saw in that fight a man who was going to stand up to life, take a shot, and go the distance. With that thought in mind, he went home and put pen to paper. Within three days, he had the script done for the movie.
However, when he wasn’t successful at a casting call, he told the producers about his script. They asked him to bring it, and so he did. And this is where the story gets interesting - upon reading the script, they thought it was quite good and offered him $360,000.00 for the script with a condition that he wouldn’t play Rocky. This was a man who had no money, was on the verge of selling his dog because he couldn’t feed it, and had only $106.00 in the bank. You would think that he would simply take the money and walk away - life between a rock and a hard place.
Stallone, however, refused to sell the script. He said to himself, "I am already poor, and I would hate myself for selling the script and losing out should the movie become successful." The producers pressed him again and again to sell the script. As good as the script was, Stallone wasn’t a big Hollywood actor. Apart from that, he wasn’t cut for such a huge role. And because they didn’t want to risk a loss, they continued to pressed upon him in order to change his mind. But as poor as he was, he still wouldn’t sell the script - life between a rock and a hard place.
Finally, the producers relented and paid him one million dollars and had him play the lead role. The movie did not only catapult Stallone into stardom, but Rocky became one of the very successful movies of all time with three Oscar wins, including Best Picture. Over the years, the Rocky franchise has earned $1.4 billion at the box office. He had made the right decision for himself.
I don’t remember when I last saw any of the Rocky movies, but my fascination with Stallone’s story was his relentless desire to, in spite of his searing poverty, turn down such a huge payday for the purpose of looking at himself a little differently than how others thought about him. He believed - and rightly so - that his biggest payday was winning the battle instead of the fight. And by sticking to his guns, he had won the battle.
Our lives have changed over the past several days. It feels like a huge disruption... nothing seems ordinary anymore. We do find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Like Rocky, we can also win this battle, we can forgo the little comforts of our lives, assure ourselves that no instructions from the health experts is too ordinary to follow, and embrace the possibility of being asked to be the lead actor.
For us, being the lead actor would mean taking a shot at life, going the distance, and staying safe in God's merciful hands.