What do you do after you’ve been hit hard and knocked down by life? What do you do after your dreams have been shattered? What do you do after you’ve been rejected or lost everything? What do you do when you’ve been defeated? What do you do when you realize you chose an abusive bully and you don’t know how to protect your kids? The wisdom of the ages, from all traditions and cultures, gives the same answer, even if the reasons are very different. In “The Ghost and the Darkness,” Val Kilmer plays a British engineer trying to build a bridge across a river in Africa. Two lions, accurately named “The Ghost” and “The Darkness” begin stalking and killing the men building the bridge. The lions outsmart every attempt to trap and kill them.
Finally, Val Kilmer develops a brilliant plan to trap one of the lions in a railroad car. They do trap the lion but he escapes, burning down the car. Kilmer is devastated and defeated.
The killings mount until the workers start leaving. They hire a skilled hunter, Michael Douglas, who is also caustic and sarcastic. At the climax to the first half of the movie, when the hunter sees Kilmer’s dejection and hears of Kilmer’s failed plan, he says, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down. Then the plan goes out the window. What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down. Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”
There it is. Kilmer faces his plans in ashes and his life as a failure because the men will leave, the bridge will be abandoned and he’ll never get another job.
The tension comes to a head when Douglas has a plan but the lions outsmart him and kill all the wounded men in the hospital. Douglas, the great hunter, is devastated and defeated. In total, the lions killed over a hundred men.
Kilmer says to him, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down. Then the plan goes out the window. What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down. Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”
There it is; the point of the movie; the point for all of us in the real world. Will we be defeated by defeat, will we give up when we’re back to square-one, will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?
We, who don’t face killer lions everyday, still do face risk and disaster everyday by:
- Human agency – we get fired, we put our savings down on the wrong stock, we give our retirement money to the wrong Ponzi scheme, some maniac or drunk driver kills people we love, some crazy person kills us and 10 others at work, we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time when a riot, revolution or war breaks out, our parents are toxic, our grown children won’t let us see our grandchildren or our spouse is negative, harassing, bullying and destroying our kids’ self-esteem and confidence, and running away means being broke.
- Natural forces – tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, prolonged drought or flood.
Even the smaller failures growing up can seem like disaster – we fail a test or a course, we’re rejected or dumped by someone gorgeous or handsome, our secrets are spread over school or the internet, we don’t make a team we’d hoped for or counted on, we don’t get into the school of our choice, our parents don’t or can’t give us the latest stuff, the cool kids scorn us, we do something really embarrassing. Our children face the same questions repeatedly: Will we be defeated by defeat; will we give up when we’re back to square-one; will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt.
As adults, our job is to:
- Teach kids to get up and fight and build again, no matter what happens, no matter how unfair, no matter how devastating. Remember the sign on the bridge to Terabithia, “Nothing Crushes Us.”
- Be models of great-hearted human beings who are not defeated by defeat; who don’t give in to depression and discouragement; but instead, who get up and fight and build again. Our job is to be models of courage, strength and resilience in the face of whatever life holds for us. Our job is to be models in the hope that our children will be inspired to be as great-hearted.
Notice, I ignored whether Douglas and Kilmer finally kill the lions. Yes that’s important to building the bridge and to the material parts of their lives. But that’s not important to the human spirits of Kilmer and Douglas being great because they’re undefeated by defeat; to them having the indomitable will to continue, no matter the obstacles and not knowing whether they’ll succeed. Okay; the factual resolution is that the Ghost and the Darkness are now preserved in the Field Museum in Chicago – and they did kill that many people.
“Strength comes not from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will,” Gandhi.
Notice, I also ignored the historical implications of colonialism. Of course, that’s there, but that’s not the main point for my life.
The point is to use the movie to stimulate in me the greatest that I can be. There are thousands of heroes and heroines, real and fictional, who can remind us to get up off the floor when life has knocked us down. The point is to use everything I see and hear to inspire me to choose whether to live a selfish, shabby, sordid story or a great and worthy story; to chose to be the hero of my life.
“Glory is not in never having been knocked down. Glory is in rising up again, each time you are knocked down,” Vince Lombardi.