Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Shawshank Redemption

You know, I've never read anything by Stephen King all the way through. There are probably those who, upon hearing this, need oxygen, but it's true. I started a novel of his once -- something about a gunslinger -- and got distracted along the way. Then I read through part of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and realized I liked the movie better, so that was that.

I used to work with a psychiatric nurse who was quite a bit younger than me and she loved Shawshank; it was her favorite film. That, along with a mutual commitment to sleep deprivation, was one of the many things that made our friendship work so well. She used to say, "I'll have plenty of time for sleep when I'm dead," and I couldn't have agreed more. Of course, she was out partying while I was writing a book but the outcome was similar.

You know the story of The Shawshank Redemption, I'm sure. Andy Duphresne is an accountant falsely accused and convicted of murdering his wife. Incarcertated in Maine's maximum security prison, he demonstrates a peculiar tendancy to thrive even in the most dismal of circumstances and against all odds. Upon making good his escape, he leaves money for his friend Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding under a tree in a Buxton hayfield. With the money is a note, encouraging Red to take a chance and follow Andy to Mexico and freedom.

I live near the site of that fictional tree and the significance of it has not been lost on me. It's possible to live in a prison (often of one's own construction) and never know it. You wonder how a person can be so unaware, but they are. The life they've made has bits and pieces of entrapment placed in critical places like the bricks in a prison wall. On those rare occasions when they contemplate a break out, those bits and pieces seem insurmountable.

Why would anyone do such a thing? There are lots of reasons, I suppose. Security, self-doubt and uncertainty, overly-conventional thinking, family upbringing or the absence of models for conceiving anything else. But like Andy, after years of gazing at those who live outside the confines of captivity, something clicks, and they find the courage and a reason to pick up a small rock hammer and start digging. And, like Andy, they may have to crawl through a foul-smelling river of refuse in the process, but in the end, they come out clean.
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