I’m 37-years-old and I’m still learning lessons about life. And yet, as I enter the autumn of my life, I can’t help but value each new lesson as a sprouting opportunity for growth and maturity, even if these are attributes I should have grasped and absorbed decades ago. I suppose the age-old adage, “You’re never too old to learn something new” is indeed an accurate cliche when living a life riddled with errors, imperfections, and remorse. Thus, my most recent life lesson is actually quite a simple one: Let go, and move on.
Here’s a small cacophony of cliches and ironies (wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, etc.) about my time in prison: I watched The Shawshank Redemption at least twenty times. And I wish this number was an exaggeration, but it’s probably an underestimation; but I was a guy in prison watching a movie about guys in prison. Granted, if I really wanted to embody the full ironic cliche of being me in prison, I’d have watched The Jericho Mile, but that film didn’t exactly screen regularly on AMC – The Shawshank Redemption, on the other hand, was seemingly aired with near-weekly regularity.
There’s one reoccurring theme in the film which often dominates the dialogue in numerous incarnations: “Hope.” The two main characters, Red and Andy, spend the film going back-and-forth about whether or not hope is positive or negative, especially in prison. Near the beginning of the film, Red believes, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” But at the end of the film, Andy writes in a letter to Red, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing – maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
But just like most of the feel-good lessons from the world of cinema, this is a great concept to contemplate, yet a difficult (or sometimes impossible) concept to implement. And all-too-often, holding out hope for too long – especially for something which will never materialize or come to fruition – can certainly pave the winding roads to unhappiness, discontent, and even insanity. So sometimes, we must let go and simply move on.
And in no other situation is this more difficult than when it comes to people. I’m the first to admit (and have done so many times), that I am a sentimental and reminiscent fool. When it comes to things like honoring traditions, preserving memories, “thinking about old times,” I am as guilty as anyone of wrapping myself in the fond memories of my youth. And much of that catalog of reminiscent longing is populated by people as well as events. However, as a result of my own terrible life choices, many cast members from the grainy films of my memories have exited that particular silver screen, never to return again. And I have spent too many years longing for their return – hoping for their return – all for naught.
So it’s time to let go – it’s time to move on. As recently as a few weeks ago, I wrote about how I missed some of these departed acquaintances. Yet as I take an objective step back and evaluate the situational chaos which prompted their departures, I realize now that this “hope” is nothing more than my own wasted longing for a past which will never be emulated or reassembled into anything resembling normality. So I’m letting go – I’m moving on.
The great thing is, once I made this conscious decision to to step out of this faulty sense of “hope,” a new hope formed within me – a hope for the future. The past felt like a rope tied around my waist, holding me back from pressing forward into the void of the future. But after letting go of the past, it felt like this rope was cut, and I was no longer dragging the weight behind me as I’ve been trudging forward into the unknown. Now, having cut these ties to my past, my forward progress isn’t trudging anymore – it’s bounding!
There is a new feeling of hope within me now: Hope for the future. And all I needed to do was stop wishing the bygone past would revisit me. Now I understand Red’s new-found hope at the end of The Shawshank Redemption as he rode that bus toward Mexico and his bright (yet unknown) future. Because his true friend, Andy, awaited his arrival, just as I still have true friends who remain in my life. That, in my broken existence, is hope.
So ask yourself, “What is the hope in my life?” Because sometimes – many times – hope for the future means moving on from the past. Free yourself from the chains of your past – wrap yourself in the hope of your future.