The question of identity can never be answered merely in terms of the present. To know who I am involves a discovery of my past (my origin) and at least a glimpse of my future (my destiny). If I am a cosmic accident springing from the dust and destined for more dust then I am nothing. I am a joke… a tale told by an idiot. But if my ultimate roots are grounded in eternity and my destiny is anchored in that same eternity, then I know something of who I am. I know I am a creature of eternal significance. If that’s so then my life counts. What I do today counts forever. Now, the now means something.
Roots stirred us deeply because it provoked the hope that if we go back far enough we might find continuity and stability. Roots had its messiah figure in Chicken George. The program went through an entire episode with Chicken George never visibly present. Yet his “invisible presence” permeated every scene. I have never seen a television production where a character was so obviously present while not appearing on the screen. When George did appear he led his family in a new exodus to a new land of promise. Roots looked backward and forward in such a way as to give the present meaning.
As T.V. treated us to Roots so Hollywood has treated us to Rocky—this film has captured the public imagination in a fresh way. Perhaps it represents merely an exercise in nostalgia, a throwback to Frank Merriwell and the original happy ending. Or perhaps it represents a protest to the age of the anti-hero and the story line of chaos that characterizes modern filmdom. Whatever the motive the movie reflects not in the Cinderella motif but the portrayal of human sensitivity displayed in Rocky’s mercy as a bill collector for the loan shark and his tenderness on the ice rink.
Applaudable warmth is seen in Rocky’s “Lennie-like” love for animals and wayward teenagers and his sentiment for his manager. The fruit of discipline, endurance, and devotion to dignity are actually cast in roles of virtue. Rocky worked and fought not for a momentary prize but for a stand of valor that lasts.
Maybe Rocky is a milestone. Maybe we are beginning to see there is more to life than Pepsi-Cola. It’s not now or never, but now and forever. Right now counts. It counts… for eternity.
This article first appeared as the first Right Now Counts Forever column in the May 1977 issue of Tabletalk.