Saturday night my wife and I watched the Shawshank Redemption. It had been almost 20 years since my first viewing and I had forgotten much of it. What a testimony to the human spirit, both the depravity and the grace. And more importantly, a lesson on finding hope in the darkest of circumstances.
For those who haven’t seen it, the movie revolves around the relationship of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman). Andy is a young former banker serving a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, and Red is older, serving a life sentence for a murder he did commit. Together they overcome the soul crushing reality of prison life to find hope and redemption. Finding hope together, they rise above the hell surrounding them to be a light to themselves and others.
Near the end of the movie, Red has been paroled and is alone in his half-way house bedroom. He is not adjusting well to freedom. As he puts it, “I live in fear, and you can’t life in fear very long.” Red has spent the last 40 years in prison and that became his home. Outside the wall is a world he doesn’t know, a world he feels too old to ever adjust to. Barely able to keep a job bagging groceries, he comes home to the dark, completely alone. Finding hope again seems impossible. Here in this painfully lonely room, he contemplates whether to hang himself, or leave the half-way house and see if he can find his friend Andy on a beach far away in Mexico. Red’s fear is suffocating and death seems like a very logical release. Fortunately, in that moment, he overcomes his fear by understanding the risk to live is greater than finality of suicide, he finds Andy, and his life enters a new chapter.
I met a psychologist once who believed that almost all mental health problems like depression, PTSD, suicide, etc. are a result of fear. We have been overcome by life and our consuming feeling is one of fear. Live in fear long enough you’ll self medicate, you’ll isolate, you’ll want to die. Fear overpowers us. Fear makes us believe that finding hope is an impossible pursuit.
What is the answer? I don’t THE answer, but one answer is just taking a step forward. Fear creates stillness and a lack of momentum. We allow ourselves to live in the dark and that dark becomes our reality, even if right outside might be a better world, a world where we can overcome the fear. That is the decision Red had to make. Did he stay in the dark, or did he step out, as crazy and unbelievable as stepping out seemed.
I think of Red taking that step to find Andy on the beach, and I remember the feeling when I left the Marine Corps and took off on my motorcycle. It was a step away from a shattered life and toward the hope things could be different. It was a two-year journey that led to hope, love, and a new way to live. Finding hope was well worth the journey.
To this day, I remember the decision to live again. When life can seem overwhelming and I find fear creeping in again, I look outside my own darkness to remember there is always a beach on the horizon. It can be found in a long talk with my wife, in a few hours playing with my children, in an unexpected e-mail from someone I’ve met along my journey. Truthfully, hope and freedom are always there if we’ll just open our eyes and move forward.
When you feel fear, remember that you are not alone. It can haunt us all. Move forward, reach out for someone, remember that no dream is crazy. What is crazy is living in fear. Taking that first step toward the light that sets us free is the most logical thing you could ever do.
We have one life, live free.