Thursday, May 1, 2014

Seventy Times Seven

My father and I used to watch professional wrestling together.  It was one of a few things we shared.  He introduced me to it back in the mid-80's, which was when Hulkamania was booming.  We often watched it together on Saturday mornings and sometimes I could even get him to wrestle me with one of his big-buckle belts serving as the championship title.  When RAW started airing on Monday nights, we watched every week together.

I could go on for hours about my fascination with the wrestling business.  Dad used to point out to me when the wrestlers "messed up" because you could see how a move was done or watch a guy react to a punch that clearly never hit him.  It all had a very "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" feel to it, which of course, made me want to see behind the curtain.  Nowadays, the curtain has been pulled back, and the industry openly admits to being a staged performance.

As a kid, one of my favorites was Jake "The Snake" Roberts.  I mean, I liked Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage and all those big names of the time period, but there was something about Jake Roberts that grabbed my attention and held it firm as long as he was on the screen.  Of course, there was the eventual hope that he'd open his bag and dump Damien (his snake) onto his opponent, but there was more to Roberts than that.  He had a natural charisma that made you question how much of what we saw on TV was character and how much was actually his real personality. 

One of the most impressive aspects of Jake Roberts' character was his ability to deliver fantastic promos.  In the wrestling world, the word "promo" is used to describe any time a character speaks on the mic.  Today, most promos are (sadly) heavily scripted. Maybe not word-for-word scripted, but still planned out for the most part.  The person conducting the interview will ask pre-planned questions, and the wrestlers will give their pre-planned answers.

But back in the day, it was all improv work.  Part of being a successful character was being able to deliver interesting promos that sold the product.  The wrestler and interviewer would be put in front of the live camera and told "Talk about the upcoming match" or "Talk about what happened last week" or something general like that.  Since they were broadcasting live, they had only one take to get it right.  From there, it was up to the performers to make it happen.  And Jake Roberts always made it happen.

One of my favorite promos by Jake happened at Wrestlemania 6 before his match with Ted DiBiase.  This promo is widely considered to be one of the best promos in the history of the business.  I've posted it below.  Just to set the stage, Ted DiBiase played the character of "The Million Dollar Man," a rich guy who was so arrogant that he paid for his own title belt - the "Million Dollar Championship" - which Jake Roberts stole.

Sadly, Roberts never spent any considerable time at the top of the wrestling world.  Drug and alcohol addiction dragged him down a dark and dangerous road for the majority of his life.  He'd disappear from the wrestling world for a time, then re-emerge for another run.  Sometimes he'd be gone a couple of months, sometimes years.  Eventually, he disappeared for good.  As the business began to open up more, documentaries began to be produced.  Jake's battle with his addictions is well-documented in films such as "Beyond the Mat" and "Jake Roberts: Pick Your Poison."  In his defense, he had a worse childhood than many of us might have dreamed.  The kind of things he endured during his youth would be enough to drive most people to find some kind of escape.

As time went on, pictures and videos started surfacing on the internet.  Among other things, there were clips of him drunk at independent wrestling shows, unable to perform properly, and making a mockery of the amazing character he'd created during his run in the 80's.  Fans like myself thought it was just a matter of time before he was found dead somewhere.  But somehow, through it all, he hung on.

Fast forward to October, 2012.

Jake Roberts, over 300 pounds and barely able to move due to the years of abusing his body through both wrestling and drugs, moved in with another former wrestler, Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) to try to clean up his life for the umpteenth time (really, Microsoft Word?  You recognize "umpteenth" as a word?).  With DDP's help, Roberts was able to get himself on a good path for the first time in decades.  DDP's yoga program (creatively called DDPYoga) helped Jake get mobile again, lose weight, and finally begin to take hold of the demons that had held him prisoner for the majority of his life. 

But exercise, no matter the type, can only do just so much.  Jake was in need of surgery to help fix some injuries that had never healed and were inhibiting his recovery.  Wrestlers don't have health insurance, so, in January of 2013, DDP set up an Indiegogo donation campaign to help fund Jake's surgeries.

12 hours later, the following was filmed.  Watch the whole thing.  It's incredible.


Following Jake's surgery, he continued to walk the straight and narrow.  He kept up with his workouts, resisted temptations to return to the drugs and alcohol after 30 years of addiction, and today he is clean and sober and in great shape. 

See Jake's Transformation

So why am I telling you all of this?

Well, as I mentioned, this wasn't Jake's first attempt at getting clean and taking control of his life.  He had done it before, but it never lasted very long.  Doctors will tell you that addiction is a cruel mistress - your brain becomes so accustomed to the stimulation provided by the object of your desire that it begins to feel like a bodily need.  A requirement.  A thirst.  You feel like you just can't get by without satisfying that need.
 
As a result, when news got out about Jake's Indiegogo campaign to raise money for his surgeries, there were some wrestling fans who reacted harshly.  There were people who said things like "I'm not going to hand him money - he'll blow it on more drugs" and "If he'd been smarter with the money he earned, I wouldn't be expected to pay his bills" and so on.  It made me sick to my stomach.

Is there a limit on forgiveness?  Should there be? 

The answer is no.

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."  -Matthew 18:21-22

Everyone makes mistakes.  Sometimes we make a lot of them.  Sometimes we make the same mistake over and over.  Sometimes we know we're doing it, yet don't know how to stop it.  We're all human.  We're all imperfect.  And we all rely on each other to make it through this life.

Jake Roberts, regardless of past transgressions, reached out for help.  How could we, as fellow human beings, knock that hand away?  Why would we refuse to offer help to someone in need?  Because he screwed his life up by himself?  Because he has no one to blame but himself?  Because his choices put him in that position?

So what?

Who among us hasn't done one thing or another to screw up our own lives?  Who among us hasn't made poor decisions?  Who among us hasn't reached out to a fellow human being at one time or another and said "Please, help me."?

If someone reached back, were you thankful?

If no one reached back, did you wish they had?

Why not be that blessing to someone else?

Are we as a people so focused on results that we'd give up on a human being if the odds of success didn't look good?  It's not as though he was in a vegetative state in a hospital; he was injured and asking if anyone would be willing to help.  But since he'd failed too many times for some people's liking, they weren't willing to "risk" it for him again.  Really?  A fifteen dollar donation is too much to risk?  Thirty?  Fifty?  Is that the price limit on a man's recovery?  Should there be a price limit?

Here's a question: If Jake Roberts turned back to booze after getting his surgery, should anyone have regretted contributing?  If Jake Roberts used the donation money to buy drugs, should anyone have regretted contributing? 

The answer is "No."

I would've been upset, of course, but I would not have regretted it.  You can't control what other people do, you can only control what you do.  The donations Jake received helped give him a chance for a healthier life.  Whether or not he wanted to accept that chance was up to him.  But at the very least, when he extended his hand and asked for help, there were people out there to grab it.

Last month, Jake Roberts, with his life back on track after 30+ years of addiction, finally received his much deserved reward with an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.  Addiction is a lifelong struggle, and he will have to battle his self-destructive tendencies until the day he dies.  Maybe he'll make it, and maybe he won't.  But at least for now, he's living life in a way he hasn't experienced before - happy, healthy, and alive.

Never underestimate the blessing you can be to another person.

Give without expectations.

Love always.

God bless,
Kevin