When I was about 12 or 13 years old I had one of those combination locks with a black dial, the kind you used on high school lockers. What I didn’t have was the combination to open it. No matter: although the shackle was closed it wasn’t being used to secure anything so in essence it was worthless: it couldn’t be opened.
Now, in movies you often see the protagonist, when confronted with a lock to which he hasn't got the combination, whack it with something heavy. The shackle immediately lets go: lo, the lock is open and he can get into whatever place he wants to. There’s such a scene in the first Rocky movie as I recall: Rocky, chagrinned to find that his gym locker has been fitted with a new lock so that he can’t get in casually picks up a fire extinguisher, bangs it against the lock, and hey, presto! It opens.
Now, I was thirteen a long time before that movie came out, but even at that age I’d seen enough movies in which the hero did something similar. Sometimes he would even shoot the lock open using a single round from his pistol (I now know that ain't gonna happen with anything short of a 12 gauge shotgun and maybe not even then).
Confronted with this closed lock I decided to see how tough it really was. I walked down to the recess yard of the public school down the street, where I threw it against the brick wall of the school. I fully expected it to pop open (as it would certainly have done in a movie). But it didn’t. It simply bounced off the wall onto the concrete of the yard, seemingly unharmed.
This flew in the face of everything I’d been “taught” about locks by films. So I picked it up and threw it again: same result. Hmmm….this lock was tougher than I’d thought. A third throw produced no results beyond a minor marring of the external surface of the stainless steel case.
Nevertheless I was not about to quit. I kept throwing that lock against the wall, harder and harder each time, determined to force the damned thing to open. I don’t know how long it took for me to see “progress” in the form of a distortion of the case, but once I did I stepped up my efforts. Bang-bang-bang! More dents and scuffs, not much beyond that.
But BANG-BANG-BANG! Finally the case itself started to split open even though the shackle remained stubbornly latched. I whanged that lock against the wall more and more, throwing it harder each time, until, at last it "gave up the ghost" more or less collapsing into its component parts. I must have spent an hour or more on this senseless activity, but hey, I was 13 so I knew no better; nor had I anything better to do. Of course, in the end, I “won” and the lock became so much scrap metal.
Sixty-plus years on from that day, I now realize that my destruction of that lock is a metaphor for life. Life comes at you from the day you’re born, repeatedly throwing you against a brick wall. Of course this goes not for an hour or so, but for decades; in the end you must succumb to the battering, like it or not.
Everyone, no matter how cushioned and easy his life may be, has to deal with being "thrown against the wall." At first the “throws” are little things often repeated. Maybe a poor grade on an exam you think you aced; or perhaps a rejection by someone you really wanted to date. As you move through life you're thrown against the wall again and again, just as with the lock, each impact a bit harder than the last time. A job you wanted and felt you were supremely qualified for falls through: a raise you thought you’d get doesn’t materialize. An older car breaks down too often. Your roof has an un-fixable leaks. A circuit breaker in your house continually trips, for no apparent reason.
In time the blows get worse and worse. They may be illness, the death of a beloved pet, the loss of a parent or spouse, a major catastrophe like a house fire. Before you know it the hard outer shell of your life is dented the way that lock’s case was; but you carry on because, after all, what else can you do? Then the pounding becomes hard enough that it causes your life to come apart at the seams. Life just keeps throwing you against the wall until you give up.
I’ve been thrown against the wall for the past 74 years. No doubt in time—perhaps in the not too distant future—I too will, as that lock did, give up the ghost and collapse into my component parts.