Hope Anyway

Hope. Such a strange word to me.

On the occasion of a physical trauma response I distracted myself with a movie: Shawshank Redemption. The word ‘Hope’ struck me while watching. The first time hope showed up was after Andy spent 2 weeks in the hole for playing music over the PA system for all the prisoners to hear. He said it was the easiest time in solitary he’s ever done and his fellow inmates were like GTFOH. Andy explained that the music was with him. Not physically but inside where “they” can’t touch it or take away. Red thought he was talking out of his ass and said as much to which Andy responded that what’s inside that they can’t touch is ‘Hope.’ Red, ever the pessimist, warned against it saying “Hope will get you killed.” The next time ‘Hope’ shows up is near the end when Red is violating his parole on his way to find Andy. He narrates that “I Hope.”

Andy never lost hope. He had that from the beginning. He never saw his situation as permanent. Red never saw his situation as anything but permanent, nor did his fellow inmates. After one of Red’s parole hearings and rejection, another inmate remarked that he was “up for rejection next week.” There was no hope in them. They couldn’t fathom it. When Red told Andy that hope will get you killed, Andy responded “Like Brooks?” Red left the table unable to respond.

But hope is the larger message of the movie. Hope allowed Andy to endure solitary confinement for months. Hope allowed Andy to see the possibility of escape. Hope allowed Andy to create an escape plan and execute it. Hope did that. Andy suffered tremendously—a cheating wife who was killed with her lover; he being accused and convicted of the murders; sentenced to two life sentences and serving time in Shawshank penitentiary. Andy was able to build a whole library and teach others. He persisted and never gave up. For 19 years he planned, created and hoped. He never lost sight of the goal to be free even when that seemed the most improbable thing to hope for. He never voiced his plan to anyone. He didn’t ask for help in his escape plan. Somehow he knew that he couldn’t take anyone with him. He knew he had to do it alone and that he might fail. The odds were against him. But he hoped anyway.

Hope anyway. For most of my life, I’ve had Red’s “hope will get you killed” attitude towards myself. I’ve always tried to give hope to others though. It’s that “I am they” kind of thing that I’ve struggled with. Hope was always for other people, never for me. And if I dared hope for anything, it was always for a quick and painless death. Sometimes I’d hope for lots of money, but that was just one of those fleeting wishes of “if I had that, then I could that.” Undefined and unreachable. Not even a real dream. My “hope” for money was like Forrest Gump’s Jenny’s wish and prayer “Deah Gad, make me a bird so I can fly. Fah. Fah, fah away.” It was the hope of escape that we knew wasn’t coming. But Red was like that and yet, as he was violating his parole on his way to see his friend he “hoped.” It was a dramatic shift.

My therapist pointed out that one of the reasons I was drawn to this movie is because of the hope it conveyed. I have watched this movie several times over the years. It’s certainly one of my favorites. I’ve even quoted it in a college paper about criminal rehabilitation. But I’ve always identified with Red. His pessimistic view on life was mine. “Hope will get you killed.” I wasn’t in a physical prison, but I was in a prison. A prison without walls, windows or doors. No brick. No mortar. But a lock so tight that as I begin to escape, my body shudders and shakes, becomes like lead, immobilizing me with a fear unlike anything known to compare it to.

If you recall, Brooks was so afraid to be free that he was willing to commit a murder in order to stay within the confines of Shawshank. He wasn’t prepared for freedom. A quote erroneously attributed to Harriet Tubman says she “would have freed a thousand more [slaves] if only they knew they were slaves.” A book I read, “A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859,” a man she was trying to free said “I don’t know what this ‘freedom’ is.”

Red knew he was locked up. Brooks new he was locked up. Neither considered the possibility of freedom. It wasn’t for them and they accepted that as truth. When circumstances changed that truth, overcoming their truth was a challenge greater than leaping the moon in a single bound. The prospect of ‘freedom’ challenged a long held belief in its impossibility. But that’s what Andy did. Brooks didn’t live to see the day. But Red did. Throughout Andy’s time at Shawshank, he conveyed hope to everyone he met. He challenged the status quo whenever he could. And he rose to every challenge he faced. And there were some brutal challenges. But none of it made him lose hope. I have to wonder how that’s even possible and how, after having no hope, is it possible to change one’s mind.

There’s only one answer to this question: Relationship. And this is why hope for victims of child abuse is so difficult. Relationships are dangerous. That’s it. Can’t explain it. There is only “Relationships are dangerous.” From the beginning of life, the child of abuse experiences relationship as a negative circumstance. The Developmental Survival is in response to negative relationships.

It is not clear whether Brooks, Red or Andy suffered any ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) but Andy certainly suffered trauma at Shawshank. In prison, everyone was suspect, but there was a bond formed between some that wasn’t scary and created respect and loyalty. Brooks, in his desperation, was willing to violate that respect and loyalty to avoid ‘freedom.’ For Brooks, Shawshank was all the freedom he needed. There were few expectations  and he was happy passing out the books and being the librarian. He was well known by the population and mostly they liked and respected him. When he was released, all that was gone. He was alone. And he couldn’t relate to anything or anyone on the outside. The world had changed while he was away. People had changed. And this proved to be too much for him.

Red faced the same dilemmas when he was granted parole. The world had changed. Red, himself had changed. And Red had something that Brooks didn’t—Andy Dufresne and the promise of relationship. Hope anyway.

It’s easy to watch movies like Shawshank and see the hope in them. It’s easy to see the appeal as we each long for such hope. What’s not easy to see is the fear hope inspires. “Hope will get you killed.” As children of trauma, the idea of hope is all there is—the idea of it. There is little to hope for after childhood trauma because Developmental Survival makes Hope a dangerous thing. Yet there is still that thing in us that tugs when we see movies like Shawshank. We can identify with Brooks and his fear of the world, because in our life, the world is in fact dangerous. We can identify with Red because we know that “Hope will get you killed.” And yet somehow, we’re right there with Andy, cheering him on to freedom. Hoping with him. Even if only for the length of the movie. We hope. Anyway. And for those few fleeting moments, we imagine that it’s us. That somewhere in us we have what Andy has. We take leave of the trauma and the survival and let ourselves get swept up in the hope of Andy. And then the movie ends and we’re no better off than when we started. “Deah God. Make me a bird so I can fly. Fah. Fah, fah away.”

But what if? What if we allow the hope of Andy Dufresne to stay with us after the movie ends? What could happen then?

Anything and everything. The possibilities open up to endlessness. We could try new things without being afraid to fail. We could try new things without being afraid to succeed. We could try new things and not be afraid that people will see us. We could. Hope. Anyway.

Andy swam through 500 yards of shit. We’ve done that our whole life. We’ve been in the muck for so long and have become so much like Brooks or Red that we don’t know what ‘freedom’ is and the possibility of it is too scary and unfamiliar. Andy Dufresne was physically locked up, but his spirit was free. We are spiritually locked up but physically free. The key to unlocking our prison is Hope. Anyway.

Let’s allow ourselves to travel through the muck with Andy to that blessed stream that washed it all away. Let us allow ourselves to feel the rain on our skin and revel in the success of our survival.

Let us each Hope Anyway.