Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine….crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.
The Shawshank Redemption
All the way to heaven is heaven.
St. Catherine of Siena
My wife, Dutch, and I have a running joke that, at any given time you have a better than even chance of finding The Shawshank Redemption playing on AMC. The network seems to have a love for the film bordering on obsessiveness. That said, if I come across the film while I’m channel surfing, I have a difficult time not being pulled in. I know that’s because, even though I’ve never been in prison (or even arrested), I identify with the narrative.
Though I’ve had my share of difficulty, on balance I’ve lived a life of incredible good fortune, a life my forebears even a few generations ago could only have dreamed about. I have material comforts, security, health, and people who love me. But this reality doesn’t prevent me, periodically, from sinking into a sudden. For no reason I can discern, I brood over how much closer to the end I am than the beginning; I lament lost opportunities, moments when I’ve hurt or failed those I love; I think about how little I deserve what I have achieved, and simultaneously feel disappointment that I haven’t accomplished more.
Of course shame about how others will respond compounds the despair. In a strange way, dealing with depression and dealing with race have that overlap. Will others see these issues as a play for sympathy? Will they think I should “just get over it,” that “things can’t be that bad”? In both cases, as well, the original causes can be external (trauma, treatment at the hands of the wider culture, the way you are represented by others), but the most significant damage happens internally. Some of my grievances are real, some inflated, some imagined. In the end, their source matters less than my willingness to let them fester in me.
Those who haven’t experienced deep depression fail, I think, to realize how tactile, how visceral it feels. Rather than a mood or emotion, I bear it more like a garment under my skin, a sensation of heaviness and weariness from the weight of it. This weight feels as tangible as Shawshank’s prison walls, and as seemingly inescapable. Of course, I do have a means of escape at my disposal. In the same way that Andy in Shawsank retains his freedom even before his actual escape, and Red’s parole alone cannot release him, my imprisonment depends quite literally on the state of my mind.
Entering that river of shit may be the only way for us to cleanse ourselves. I don’t mean wallowing, lingering, falling in love with living in the muck. I mean crawling, dragging myself through my own effort. With luck, we have people pulling for us, those who have crawled through the same shit themselves. But the tunnel can hold only one, face just above the foul soup I have brewed. I’d prefer to avoid the journey, but I’ve gone far enough to accept that the only real way out is through. In an important way, this writing is my tunnel, this difficulty and darkness my best chance for redemption. I have a long way yet to crawl.
those who have crawled through the same shit themselves. But the tunnel can hold, my face in the foul soup I have brewed. I’d prefer to avoid the journey, but I’ve crawled far to accept that the only real way out is through. In an important way, this writing is my tunnel, this difficulty and darkness my best chance for redemption. I have a long way yet to crawl.