Get Busy Living

Years ago when I was waffling through my own misspent youth, my father quoted me a line from his favorite move, “The Shawshank Redemption.”  The film itself is about a wrongly imprisoned man who spends two decades chiseling a hole in his cell wall that eventually leads him to his freedom. This movie is very insightful; the plot alone metaphorically serves as an example for the persistence and human spirit it takes to reach a goal without breaking, no matter how impossible. The movie quote really did change my life, and I’ve thought of it through the years whenever I became hopeless.

I have a relative who has been working in the booth of a parking garage collecting tickets for more than a decade now. It is literally his concrete womb that protects him from all things satisfying in life. This relative has two associate’s degrees (because he has accumulated over 125 credits at our local community college, more creidts that some bachelor’s degrees require). He claims that he is not yet ready to transfer from the community college to a state college even though his academic counselor offered to get him in without even applying.

When that happened, he came up with another excuse. He’s simply too good for a state college, he even considers UCONN sub par. UCONN! Instead, he would rather pay $40,000 + a year to go to Wesleyan or Yale.  He thinks that attending one of these name brand colleges, even at the cost of paralyzing sticker shock, makes up for the fact that he passed the 40-year old mark a few years ago and is still where he was when he was 20. He eventually found excuses to bail out of filing applications for these private schools as well, and cited that he was very nervous about taking the SAT’s. (I wish I could somehow relay to you that I’m rolling my eyes right now).

There is nothing wrong with working in a ticket booth, or attending your local community college from the time you graduate high school ‘til the time your hair turns gray, as long as you are happy. For him, this is not the case. He dreams of doing more, but doesn’t. From what he says, he is miserable.  He even enjoys tearing down the fresh-out-of-high-school students and giving me anecdotes about what stupid things they said in class today. One day I told him to just become a professor already, because at least they get paid to belittle students. He shied away from this idea too.

Often, he talks about going to film school, moving to the West Coast and following his dreams. Thing is, he’s had several opportunities to move out there, all of which were all handed to him on a silver platter. You can guess what happened there. After years of wasting my breath to support and encourage whatever idea or goal he came up with (that deviated from his normal lifestyle), I realized his dreams were just that, dreams. I was just a mirror for he to reflect thoughts and ideas.

Like how Andy from Shawshank, chisteled his wall, I made little to slow progress towards my life’s goals, and my relative still just talked about his homework. Oh the humanity of his schoolwork dillemnas. Although he worked 50 or more hours a week in the womb, he somehow managed to schedule between four to six classes a semester. Most people would think this was nuts, but those who saw it for what it was, would just think it was sad;  the fact that he filled his time with things he hated in order to avoid actual living. On top of all this work and school, he made it a point to complain constantly about his lack of money and time for dating or friendships. He never seemed to have enough money no matter how many hours he worked. His life was all around disatisfying, though he had yet to gain the courage to step out of his womb. He couldn’t even make time to meet me for coffee or dinner.

As I struggled through my own crap, most of which he never took seriously, I began to see progress. I had not yet reached my goals but I was becoming a better person, the best possible me to step forward whenever the goals were finally reached.  Listening to him talk about the same things over and over without making any steps towards progress eventually weighed me down. Whenever we spoke, I hung up the phone feeling crummy. He was very negative, and if he wasn’t that, he enjoyed getting under my skin by playing devil’s advocate or degrading some hot button issue that I cared about.

A few weeks ago, I had some good news about my job situation, great news. I avoided his phone call for days, wondering how I would break it to him, my good news. I knew I would have to tell him eventually, I’d told other relatives and it would surely get back to him one day. Finally, I  crossed my fingers and called him back. I figured even if I somehow unintentionally made him feel inferior through my own life’s progress, he would at least have enough class to pretend he was happy for me.

When he picked up the phone, he immediatly began to complain about this weeks pile of homework. Five minutes later, he still hadn’t asked how I was doing. Finally I told him about my new job. He reacted fiercly,

“Don’t work there, they’re terrible! They’ll hire anybody,” and on and on. I put the phone down while he continued his negative chatter, and didn’t pick up again until the receiver became silent.

In “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy successfully keeps his integrity regardless of the abuse and adversity he faces while in prison. Eventually he successfully escapes through the tunnel he started digging so many years earlier, and is finally able meet up with his old jail buddy Red. Together, they retire to Mexico and live happily ever after. I would like to note that by this point  the bad guys in the movie have shot themselvesin the head either literally or figuratively.

For one, the place that just hired me does not hire just anybody. The job itself is one big clink of the hammer on my cell wall, a tunnel I began to dig more than a decade ago. As one prisoner in Shawshank said so eloquently,“You need to get busy living or get busy dying.”

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