Leaving Shawshank

After several weeks of 70s reruns on MeTV with interchangeable guest actors and budding future stars, decided it was time for something meatier and watched The Shawshank Redemption. Perhaps it’s simply too much introspection, but was struck by the scene of jaded lifer Red (Morgan Freeman) telling the parole board how he’d like to be able to go back and have a talk with his teenage self.

Wandered upstairs, got out my high school yearbook and put on some LPs. Not sure that was good idea. There I was in all my 17yo glory… braces off, somehow grew 3-4″ during my senior year, acceptance letter to UF in hand. I re-read all the lofty dreams and ambitions next to my picture and also what friends wrote. Many of those kids are gone already. What the hell did I know at that age? What did any of us? Everything, nothing. But we had our whole lives in front of us, beckoning, and there was plenty of time. The scratch and pop of the LPs erased time and everything was wrapped in an ethereal clarity.

Like Red, I found myself wistfully wishing I could send the kid in the photo a walkthrough of pivotal moments. Your Junior summer at UF, don’t take the safe, good-paying co-op job; take the awesome, low-paying one in the national park. Say yes here. Say no there. I winced thinking about some of my decisions…water long under the bridge…and poems by Whittier about the saddest words and what might have been.

Red was reunited with his buddy Andy on a Mexican beach, 40 years of Shawshank done…a life of leisure ahead, a cosmic tipping of the scales in the fourth quarter. Of course he had no options or choices in Shawshank, no choices to zig when he shoulda zagged. Maybe there’s a comfort in that.

But I wonder…on balance…how the kid in the photo fared. All those pie-in-the sky dreams at 17, all the time in the world. Now it’s suddenly almost 40 years later, four decades at Corporate Shawshank done.

Red was initially afraid when released from Shawshank: He was overwhelmed by his choices, his freedom; he strangely missed the daily grind and routine. It took a tremendous leap of faith to board the bus and begin his new life.

They say old age begins when dreams turn to regrets. Guess that’s when time runs short, when you become too weary…when you no longer yearn for the yearbook stuff, but instead the stifling familiarity of Shawshank.

I wonder if there’s still time for the kid in the photo…and if he will ever reach his Mexican beach.

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