Here you are at the confluence of the past, present, and future — how The Shawshank Redemption can help you reach for hope and direction.
I am at a crossroads in my life. I always picture my crossroads like a scene out of a movie. Two dusty roads intersect down the middle of recently plowed corn fields. There is not a soul or a house in sight. The trees by the road waver in the late summer breeze and the heat ripples in the distance. I pull up, stop in the middle of the road, right in the middle where the roads cross, and I get out of the car. I stand there in the middle of nowhere at this lonely stretch of road and scratch my head.
“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” –Red
There are no road signs, I am lost, and I have no idea where to go. And my PHONE HAS NO RECEPTION so I have to figure out where to go from here without any help. I might actually yell ‘HELPPPPPPP’. No one can hear me. I might panic a bit A LOT. I like to believe I am calm in the face of this kind of confusion but I am alone, I have no one to ask for help, and I am not sure what I should do next so I stand there, sweating, slightly teary eyed, confused, wishing I’d paid attention to the road signs before I got here, hoping for a miracle, and quite literally kicking myself for lacking the discipline to plan ahead. Before this little mental imagery gets all Children of the Corn, this is exactly how I feel about my life right now.
My life fell apart epically then I collapsed and now I am standing here in the rubble of the life I thought I had and I am wondering what the f**k to do next. So many existential questions to ponder in the middle of a damn dusty road in the middle of nowhere. What should I do now? How do I let go of the past? How do I embrace the present while looking to the future? WHAT NEXT?!
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” – Andy Dufresne
I tried everything in an effort to banish the past. I worked out, I ran, I biked; I became super Mom, I tried to be all things to all people, I had negative zero boundaries – assuming negative zero is even a real thing; I feared speaking up so I stayed silent but I raged on the inside about all of the injustices I felt were happening around me and to me. I wanted to be the best I could be at everything I tried. I felt chronically like a failure. I despised myself for not doing and being more. I wanted more but I felt I could never attain it. I was crushed by the weight of a lifetime with an unhealthy body image, deep self-hate, and crippling self-doubt.
Did I mention I am standing in the rubble of the life I thought I had? I wanted so badly to believe that if I was just a better person, stronger, kinder and more hopeful – I could outrun the past and I could make the future better. Mostly it felt like a serpentine river of red hot molten lava was chasing me and threatening to swallow me. How’s that for a dramatic segue?
Dusty crossroads probably don’t sound that bad at this point! Molten hot lava, after all, has the potential to be life ending; the crossroads are just making a decision and sticking with that decision. Only decision making looks different than it did twenty years ago. Now I have these two humans who count on me. Plus I am going to be 47 in 78 days …by the time you read this I may already be 47 which is about how long it takes me to write anything… In a nutshell, I am feeling old.
Not ancient hag old mind you but older. My hands look old; the look of my perpetually tired eyes and my graying hair and weird neck lines no one told me would happen this soon all make me feel old. I have to pause to get out of bed to be sure both ankles work… at the same time in conjunction with my knees. I pulled a muscle in my chest I guess? That pulled muscle makes me think I am chronically having a heart attack until I take some Advil then I am fine. And the piece de resistance of being almost 47 is that I can get away with most anything because ‘young people’ have stopped looking fully at me, they sort of look through me now. That last one I am actually okay with.
Mostly I feel old because I cannot seem to make a decision about what I plan to do with this “one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says in her poem, The Summer Day. I used to decide to do something and do it. Move from California to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Sure, why not. Take a different job in another city months after accepting the first job? Cool, let’s go! Go on road trip to Florida because why not? I’m in. I was certainly not a crazy wild fly by the seat of my pants kind of person but I know I was much less scared of making those decisions when I was younger.
So what am I scared of? A new job. Travelling the world. Worrying less about money, and more about living. There are plenty of people who have successfully navigated a new career or a huge life change at my age and beyond. The truth is it is scary to stand at these crossroads at almost 47 straining my eyes (ahem I forgot my glasses in the car…) trying to see which way to go.
My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. I like a good murder mystery, I love a plot twist but truly it is the messages within the movie that resonate with me still to this day. Those are: Time passes. Sh*t happens. We make the best of what we are given. Sometimes we have to escape through a tunnel of shit to get to a glorious Mexican beach on the other side.
Today, the most profound part of that movie for me, besides the aforementioned tunnel of sh*t, is that I can either spend my life going through the motions and waiting around for something to happen, or I can make something happen. Or as Andy so eloquently said, I can “get busy living or get busy dying.”
With that gentle honest reminder, I am back at my dusty unmarked crossroads, where I will wipe my eyes dry. I will take a deep breathe. I will walk back to the car calmly and get in. And I will choose a road and start driving. Whichever road feels the best to start with and if it is not the right one, I will try a different one another day. I will find my way to where I need or want to be — no road signs required. I will keep right on driving until I cannot drive any further. Then I will get out and walk. The miracle I am hoping for will be in this very act of choosing without actually knowing exactly what is next, seeing what is around the bend fearlessly, not allowing myself to be stuck, or worrying about planning ahead.
“Do you know what they say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory… a warm place with no memory.” –Andy Dufresne
I will just go and not look back, leaving the past where it belongs. And maybe the best part about this is that there may be a beautiful beach at the other end, or an amazing new career, or the love of my life standing there waiting for me but if I stand here doing nothing I am just wasting my life. I will reach for hope, and joy and a life well lived regardless of what is right or wrong along the way.