In the movie The Grey, John Attway (the protagonist played by Liam Neeson) is a grizzled wolf hunter.
He works for an oil pipeline and protects the employees from wolf attacks, which (according to the movie) are common in the wild of Alaska.
The movie begins with this crew of workers getting ready to fly home.
But before John gets on the plane, he contemplates suicide. The only thing he wants is to be reunited with his wife but he knows it’s futile. Life has become so seemingly meaningless for him, he figures the only way out is to take his own life.
He’s moments away from pulling the trigger, but something compels him to hang on for one more moment.
John ends up getting on the plane,
On the flight back, the plane malfunctions and a hideous crash ensues – only a handful of people survive, including John.
It doesn’t take long before a pack of wolves attack the survivors. To make matters worse, a blizzard rolls in.
John realizes the only way to survive is to move outside the kill radius of the wolves, which can be up to 300 miles. He picks a direction – the treeline – and heads for it.
What follows is a desperate struggle for survival against blood-thirsty wolves and the terrible ferocity of nature.
The Struggle for Survival
When you see the plane crash, the forlorn escape out of the wilderness and all the terrible things that transpire afterwards, it almost seems like John should have pulled the trigger – that just giving up would have been easier than what he went through.
If life is going to be so hard, why deal with it?
Toward the end of the movie, when John has only an ounce of life left in him, he begs God to save him.
At this point, he’s the only person still alive – the rest of his crew got picked off one by one over the course of the last few days. He’s done everything he could to help them survive, but couldn’t protect them. And now, after a terrible and brutal few days, he just wants the struggle to be over.
He asks to be saved.
For a moment, he stares into the sky. He waits. He prays.
He picks himself up and keeps walking.
He marches deeper into the brush and once again runs into wolves…but this time something is different.
After days of trying to escape, after running for miles trying to get away from the wolves, after desperately trying to survive, John finds himself in the wolves den: the exact center – the root – of all this death and destruction.
Instead of escaping their kill radius, John walked right into the heart of it.
Live and Die
So there he is, surrounded.
The alpha wolf waits for him to make a move; John knows it’s all over.
Calmly, John pulls out a picture of his wife and reflects on a memory of her in a hospital bed, right before she died.
He puts the picture down and pulls out his father’s poem. It’s a poem he’s kept in his wallet his entire life – a poem that clearly means a lot to him. He reads it one last time:
“Once more into the fray,
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.”
It’s a warriors poem.
It’s a message for the fighter, for the soldier, for the gladiator.
It’s a battle cry.
John could have given up at any point throughout the journey, including now, but he doesn’t.
And at the end of it all, he enters the wolves den and squares off against the Alpha wolf.
He takes out his knife and goes into battle one last time.
Stand and Fight
So here’s a person who, even after everything falls apart around him, keeps fighting.
He keeps fighting for a simple reason: because that’s what a warrior does.
And this final fight, in the wolves den (the symbolic end) against the Alpha wolf (the physical manifestation of his inner demons), John doesn’t submit.
He stands and fights.
It might seem like a pointless fight – after all, there’s no way he can win, so why try?
And therein lies the beauty of the story: John wants to be reunited with his wife, but he also wants to uphold the virtues of the warrior, the virtues instilled in him by his father.
What better way than one last battle with a great enemy?
The Impossible Battle
The creative struggle is real…
And it’s universal.
I’m not talking about the carefree painter who paints without direction – who paints to paint – and whatever turns out, turns out.
I’m talking about the creative struggle of creating with purpose – for a purpose.
- The design of the perfect user interface.
- The structure and pacing of the perfect novel.
- The systems and processes of the perfect business.
These things are hard as hell to create.
And the journey can make you want to quit, to throw in the towel, to simply accept what life throws at you instead…
After all, if the enemy is too great to beat, why fight in the first place?
Once More Into the Fray
Here’s the deal – life’s not about surviving.
If that were the case, we’d all lose: nobody is exempt.
So if your life is nothing more than surviving: skating by at a dead end job; accepting your status in the rat race and unhappily climbing the ladder; spending 50% of your waking hours – 50% of your life – doing something you hate because that’s the only option you think you have…
Well then you’ve already lost, haven’t you?
On the other hand, if each day you live to create, to love and serve others, to do everything in your power to make yourself and your world better…
If each day you keep moving toward your goal, no matter how long the journey, no matter how difficult the struggle, no matter how terrible the battle…
If each day you can muster the strength to fight the creative enemy just one more time…to fight your wolf…
Well then it doesn’t matter if you win the battle.
What matters is that you entered the fray.
And what matters every day moving forward from here is that you continue to enter the fray.
Every day. No matter what.
So when you feel like quitting because the battle seems impossible to win, remember:
Great enemies are the only enemies worth fighting. [tweet]
Here’s to entering the fray.
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