We Cinderella Humans.

In her classic “Woodstock” Joni Mitchell draws a lyrical picture of our human dilemma, “we are stardust, we are golden, billion year old carbon.”

Since the beginning of time humans have wrestled with the most basic question regarding our existence and its meaning. Are we but an accident of nature, just billion-year-old-carbon or are we special, golden?

That we share a universal longing for life to mean more is plain when you look at the popular appeal of Jimmy Braddock’s story. Braddock was a boxer on the rise when the Great Depression hit. A traditional folk song of are reminds us “Hoover blew the whistle. Mellon rang the bell. Wall Street gave the signal. And the country went to Hell!” They were tough times with millions out of work and the rest barely getting by. In the world of boxing Jimmy Braddock went from some fame and money in the bank to anonymity as an impoverished Jersey dockworker.

His true story inspired “Cinderella Man” the account of an amazing professional comeback (Braddock became the world heavyweight champion by beating Max Baer in 1935. Braddock subsequently lost to Joe Louis in 1937). But more importantly it is the story of character and courage in the face of tough times.

While working on “A Beautiful Mind” Russell Crow told Ron Howard about the story and eventually they collaborated to bring Braddock’s life to the big screen. Before filming even began, Crow explained why he was attracted to the story, “Braddock was the underdog but Americans took him to their hearts because they saw what he was doing as their struggle. It was one of those great moments in history where the whole of the working class had a hero who fulfilled what they asked him to do.”

The struggling Braddock exemplifies human yearning in microcosm, explaining to his wife Mae in one poignant moment, “I have to believe that when things are bad I can change them.” Beyond the story of a boxer defying the odds to make historic comeback, outside the ring another story unfolds; that of a prototypical man courageously fighting for the things that matter to him–honor, family, honesty, integrity and personal responsibility. He refuses to send his kids off to the relatives because family belongs together. He admonishes his young son not to steal even on the toughest times. He accepts a government handout and then pays it back as soon as he is able.

Though a strong, determined individual, his story also illustrates a universal human need for love and support from family. Just before what is perceived as a suicidal bout with Max Baer his wife Mae articulates what Braddock most needed to hear, “Maybe I understand, some, about having to fight. So you just remember who you are… you’re the Bulldog of Bergen, and the Pride of New Jersey, you’re everybody’s hope, and the kid’s hero, and you are the champion of my heart, James J. Braddock.”

That we can overcome obstacles, retain our dignity, that we might be the ‘champion of another human heart,” these are the primal instincts, the shared longings of every human. Even the most hard bitten atheist and advocate of the billion-year-old-carbon theory can relate to the siren call of these unseen higher angels.

Braddock serves as a reminder that the image of God imprinted on humans can shine through in even the darkest of hours.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in December 29, 2005 by | No Comments »

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