It was a year or two back, I think. But really, who remembers timeframes anymore?, I wrote a piece for Breaking Muscle on some of my favorite movies and how they all similarly connected ideas inside of me. I saw the same thread wound through and around all of the stories. The story of someone taking up some challenge and uncovering some truth common and familiar to everyone, forgotten or never shown in this light.
It was called Bill Murray Made Me a Better Lifter. Great title, I didn’t come up with it. It was the first time I’d been paid to write something creative and personal like this that really had nothing to do with how to be bigger, stronger, or faster.
I planned to write a part two discussing more movies that spoke about that same story but I never did. So I decided to write it now, right here.
The Man That Kept Running
I’ll be real about this, I don’t like to watch this whole movie and I don’t enjoy the whole story. It’s great, but it’s just not all for me. What I do like about it, I like a lot.
Of the parts I do like, Forrest Gump running across the country is my favorite. The way I see it, he wasn’t running toward something or away from something, he was just running. Reporters and fans or what he was doing asked him why he was running. What was his goal, his destination, his intention, the lesson, or cause he was trying to draw people to?
Thing was, Forrest wasn’t focused on some finish line or some greater cause to attract anything or anyone to him or what he was doing. Forrest was just focused on the task at hand, the moment of putting one foot in front of the other. All there was, was the running.
Miyamoto Musashi, famed Japanese swordsman said something along the lines of:
“Whatever attitude you are in, do not be conscious of making the attitude – think only of cutting”
I’ve also read the quote written as:
“Whatever state of mind you are in, ignore it. Think only of cutting.”
Whatever we view as important, and we all think way too many things are that really aren’t, we fixate on what it means or what it’s leading to or what it implies, and what the result or effect will be. We rarely focus on the thing itself.
So we get nothing of it done because we’re distracted by what’s behind it or beyond it rather than just the doing of it. Gump didn’t have the questions in his mind and didn’t worry about what was behind what he was doing or what it would mean to himself, his life, or other people. He thought only of running. He did the thing, experienced the life in the action of it. And because he did, he actually arrived at a point where he thought and said I think I’ll go home now.
The beautiful thing of it was that he inspired loads of people simply by doing. Doing what? Running. Where? Nowhere in particular, just running. He didn’t tell people the why behind what he was doing, there was no real why. It was the thing itself, the full presence of doing something.
Rudy, Rudy, Rudy!
You’ll get the subtitle if you’ve seen the movie. Bet you can hear the crowd chanting his name in your head now. Rudy fits more into that typical motivational, feel-good category of movie and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t watch it before every game as a ten-year-old kid playing football to get me pumped up.
I hadn’t seen it in a while because I’ve grown increasingly disinterested in movies or stories that are intentionally contrived to get you in your feelings or excited about something but leave you with nothing to take with you that helps you deal with real life. The feeling from the movie wears quickly because it doesn’t shift your point of view and with it your action.
And this is what I pointed out in that first article about movies that I found truly useful.
They’re useful because they show some original truth which all of us seem to understand already when shown to us but that needed to be dusted off and brought back with some new color painted on it.
When I re-watched Rudy some random Friday a few months back, I saw it. It was in the scene where Rudy is complaining to the grounds manager, feeling proper sorry for himself. He was on the Notre Dame football team, on the practice squad, but his dream was to dress for a game, putting on a game jersey and pads, and stand on the sidelines with the rest of the team for his family to see. It was the last game of the season and he was about to graduate but still, he wasn’t on the list of players to run out of the tunnel.
The groundskeeper, also a former Notre Dame player, barks back real fast at Rudy:
“Aw, you are so full of crap. You’re five-feet-nothing. A hundred and nothing. And you’ve got hardly a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in with the best college football team in the land — for two years. And you’re also gonna walk out of here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this lifetime you don’t have to prove nothing to nobody except yourself. And after what you’ve gone through, if you haven’t done that by now, it ain’t gonna never happen.”
There’s really not much to add to that quote to give it more weight. We can all read that and see the truth it carries.
We find the greatest sense of meaning when we direct our attention and stretch to reach the most visionary target we can imagine. And within that process, nothing matters more than progressing (however you define it) toward the you who can touch that ideal beyond the frail ego you’ve created from fear and dull pride and create a harmony with others.
To do any of it though, you must understand what you are and what you’re not. You must accept that lot, and be grateful that you have the power to act and move toward your target despite where you may have started from. I’ve struggled with this. It’s why that scene in the movie is imprinted in my mind. We can all look around and see someone else who’s miles ahead of us because of more ability, or help, or because their starting line was much further down the track than ours.
It doesn’t matter, nothing can change any of that. You can become bitter or you can do the most good that you can personally do. And the life story of the real Rudy Ruettiger demonstrates that he did just that. He went to Notre Dame to play football, but he was never going to even start a game. But because he was the first of his family to graduate college he took his education and started businesses where he could employ people with similar upbringing like him who didn’t have the same education and didn’t run toward some striking target.
These are actually a series of films by A&E based on an even bigger series of books about a young British Naval Captain. We’re talking open sea in wooden ships shooting cannonballs at French ships.
In the first two movies, Hornblower is a green young British officer working on a ship for the first time under a very respected Captain. He’s educated and is already a naval officer but had not yet spent any real time on open water on a naval ship like this. So not only does he need to learn how to sail, but he also needs to get his sea legs. Meaning he needs to stop throwing up.
The ship’s crew who weren’t officers resents Hornblower when he first arrives as they do with all young officers because he knows nothing about being a true seaman or of warfare and yet is still their superior. These sailers often grew up and spent most of their lives on ships like this.
As the story goes on, Hornblower is put in charge of a group of hard men who he’s to lead on particular assignments. The men resentfully challenge him, trick him, and try to get him in trouble with the Captain.
But Hornblower proves not only to be brave and clever but also willing to take advice from those who are supposedly his subordinates and also take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
He took up the duty of earning respect not expecting or demanding it. Respect not just from his superiors but also from the men who are supposed to serve him. He understand quickly that respect from the common crew can’t be assumed, or forced.
Some of the other young officers in his position would try to force their subordinates into respecting them, thinking it was owed to them. Hornblower humbled himself to working for the respect of all men because he saw the value that these sailors had, even if they had been labeled as common. Seeing the value in everyone and humbling yourself to listen and learn regardless of how lowly someone may seem is what will give you true competence and authority. And this is what he did.
I’m pretty particular as to what movies and shows I watch, what stories and books I read. I think I got this way after I had kids and started a business. Both left me with very few moments to myself each day so I started critically thinking about what I spent time doing and looking at. Trying to numb my brain with lazy comedy, junk T.V., and stories with no aim didn’t help me rest my mind, it just added more clutter. So I took whatever free minute I had to watch, listen, or read something that I could take back to every other busy minute in my day that made my thought and my action better.
And now, even if I find more dead time in my day, I know that the time is a gift and I try to think of it that way. As moments to challenge what I think and how I’m thinking. Trying doesn’t always mean accomplishing and not every free moment needs to be spent in brooding rumination of the nature of existence. But when we realize that a story is a reflection of the story that we all see and understand, we might as well take a closer look.