“We have two lives; the life we learn with and the life we live after that.”
― Bernard Malamud, “The Natural”
There are days when I am disheartened and overwhelmed by the thought of starting over in my forties and of needing to lose over 100 pounds. It just seems insurmountable and I feel stuck and disappointed. I want the change to happen, but despite my best efforts, it doesn’t seem to happen fast enough, or even seem possible. I want to curl up in bed, feel sorry for myself and quit. I feel weighed down by others’ disapproval and doubt and I’m tired of being disappointed by people I trust, love and want in my life who don’t, or can’t reciprocate.
However, I recently re-watched one of my all-time favorite films, “The Natural,” which stars Robert Redford, and it reminded me to keep moving forward and to hold tight to my dreams and goals. Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a man who is starting his baseball career at an age when, his new coach, Pop Fisher, played by Wilford Brimley, tells him, “most people should be thinking about retirement.” You see, Hobbs had some trouble when he was a promising young rookie. He encountered a mentally unstable woman on a train who, subsequently, lured him to her hotel room and then shot him and killed herself. Apparently, this took a toll on Hobbs that resulted in a 15-year hiatus from the game. Now, he’s back and ready to make his mark at a time when the world would rather he just fade away.
Hobbs is representative of many people. Some folks are lucky. They glide through their childhoods and young adulthoods without many difficulties. They don’t face serious illness, deaths or personal tragedies and failures and they arrive at middle age ready to start easing into their golden years. They’ve made their mark. They’ve had their families and they’re satisfied. I know many people like this and I marvel at the fact that they’ve had no major obstacles on their paths. But for many others, myself included, we face tragedy, failure, illness and senseless death way too early in life and it affects our ability to succeed because we’re stuck dealing with the emotional fallout.
I lost many friends and family members to senseless tragedy when I was in my late-teens and early 20s. My stepbrother, Gregg, died tragically in a fire on his 21st birthday. My first boss out of college died of AIDS and I sat on the edge of his bed the night before he passed. There were too many others to list here. In my late thirties, when things seemed to finally be gelling for me, I was diagnosed with and treated for thyroid cancer. I was sick and tired for three full years and I gained 104 pounds. I was disappointed by friends and family who didn’t take the time to care, or to be there for me. I fell into the worst depression of my life and was treated for that, too. It’s taken a lot to transform these personal tragedies into strength and to make any sense of them. My path has been so far from the “normal” straight line for a woman (e.g., getting married and having kids by my age) that it more resembles a Pollock painting. But I like to remember what Thoreau said. “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”
What “The Natural” teaches is that it’s always possible to begin again. Joyce Meyer has said, “You may not have had a good start, but you can have a good finish.” Here are the five important lessons from this film that I’ve kept in my head and heart.
1. It’s Never Too Late
Roy Hobbs was too old to be a star, or so they told him. But in his heart, he knew better. He knew that God had given him a natural talent that would lead to greatness. I think that everyone has greatness inside of them. It’s just a matter of knowing what your gifts are and then remembering that it’s not what happens to you in life that matters. It’s how you respond to what has happened that is the most important. Though life had put him on the sidelines for fifteen years, when he was ready to re-establish is career, Hobbs held on to his childhood dreams and pursued his goals and, in the end, he was rewarded for his steadfastness and perseverance.
2. Your Second Act Will Be Better
Many people fail before they succeed or they face insurmountable odds or unfathomable personal tragedies. If we allow these events to shape our thinking we will never get out of bed. If we allow ourselves to believe that our past predicts our future, we will lose all hope of ever having the life we dreamed of. In essence, we will just give up and accept mediocrity. Many people do. However, Hobbs’ story shows us that, for many people, the life they live after the tragedy and the heartache is much better, happier and more fulfilled than what they ever thought possible. At the beginning of the film, Hobbs is a failure and a has-been, but by the end of the film he’s a hero and a star. In other words, don’t ever lose sight of what could be by focusing on what is.
3. Surround Yourself with the Right People
Hobbs has some difficulties when he first joins the NY Rangers. Though his raw talent is apparent to all, he stalls when he begins an affair with Kim Basinger’s character, Memo Paris. Memo is Pop Fisher’s niece and Pop warns Hobbs that he thinks his niece is bad luck, but Hobbs’ ignores him. Memo is not a stable woman and she’s attached to the Rangers’ owners, who have bet against their team in order to win money. They don’t want Hobbs to succeed and they try to bribe him and undermine his success and Memo is part of their strategy. It’s not until Hobb’s old love comes into the story, Iris Gaines, played by Glenn Close, that things start to turnaround for him. Why? Iris is a good woman who knows who Hobbs truly is. She believes in him. She has faith in him. She supports him. Her faith and support help him succeed But Hobbs has to reject the wrong people and embrace the right ones – Iris and his two team coaches – in order to realize his true potential. This is so true in life. You have to surround yourself with people that bolster you up. You have to create your own circle of supporters and rid your circle of toxic people.
Iris Gaines, played by Glenn Close, in “The Natural”
4. It’s Often Darkest Before the Dawn
When we first encounter Hobbs, he’s alone. He’s a man that had lost his way and is at a point in his life where many would give up and just accept defeat and loneliness. Though initially he has some success with the Rangers, he gets stuck in a bad luck streak and his old shotgun wound sends him to the hospital. It would’ve been so easy for Hobbs’ case to accept the easy way out – the bribe. However, Hobbs perseveres, rejects his saboteurs and ultimately learns that he has a son with Iris and, by the end of the film, Hobbs goes from zero to successful man with loving family. This shows that efforts can pay off and life can suddenly change for the very best and love can suddenly appear out of nowhere. So, it’s important to hold true to that belief even when we feel lonely, defeated and disenfranchised.
5. It’s Not What You Say
My favorite character in the film is assistant coach Red Blow, played by Richard Farnsworth. Blow doesn’t say much at all, but his eyes and his gestures, from day one, show Hobbs that he’s willing to give him a chance and that he believes in him. Blow exhibits the kind of grace that I admire in people and demonstrates in his quietude that it’s not what you say it’s what you do that counts. In the same way, Hobbs is a man of few words, it’s his actions throughout the film that reveal his true character and make him so admirable. When Hobbs first joins the NY Rangers, Pop pretty much ignores him and makes it clear he’s pissed the scout sent him someone so old. But Hobbs shows up to every practice and sits on the sidelines until his talent and his character become apparent to Pop who, eventually, tells him that he’s “the best I’ve ever seen.”
“The Natural” is a great film to watch when you’re going through difficulties in your life, or when it seems like nothing will ever change for you. It’s a film about possibilities and perseverance that leaves you, ultimately, with the message that anything is possible in the game of life.