While watching the Shawshank Redemption recently, I had an epiphany during the scene when Brooks becomes overwhelmed by the big world outside and hangs himself in his hotel room. He was surrounded by the trappings of freedom, yet still a prisoner of sorts--a prisoner of fear, a prisoner of the unknown, a prisoner of being thrust into a world where you don't have to ask for permission or advice for every last step of your life.
Many people can't see themselves in this scenario. Many can. Brooks is all of us, in one way or another. All of us have had some level of that moment, when they realize that they are on their own. They are captains of their own ships. Some of us, after the fact, understand this. Others become petrified by fear because they sense it right away, before they are able to deal with it.
I see the similarities between Brooks and divorce...specifically, divorce after a marriage of many years. I was married for 27 years. I was married for 24 of those before I knew the marriage was over, although I would learn later it had ended long before that for my ex.
This would be an opportunity to lament my married life, compare my marriage in hindsight to a prison term; to lay blame on my ex, and be highly insulting, small-minded, closed-hearted and mean-spirited. In my case, the marriage ended with an affair on his part...but there was so much more before that. So much, I won't get into. You see, as with many parts of life, to paraphrase Andy in the Shawshank Redemption...you either get busy living, or you get busy dying. To lament my past and lay blame on my former spouse, to discuss everything from divorce-imposed poverty to ruined credit, lost housing and lost belongings, lost family and lost friends...I would be getting busy dying. Negativity has no place in an honest, upright life.
Instead I got busy living, eventually.
But that was after my Brooks moment.
Like Brooks for me there was that time, that blur of confusion and pain, where everything was unfamiliar. I had married at the age of 18. My entire adult life was invested in something that was now the ash of my past. In the quarter of a century or so from 18 to my Brooks moment, I had created tradition for a family; traditions that now were dead. They were now tradition that will be nothing more than memories of childhood holidays for my adult children. Now solo, I saw that the world had moved on without me. Childhood pals were grown and gone. Some had passed away. Some were grandparents already. Hangouts from my youth no longer existed and in some cases, the buildings themselves were gone.
I was alone, with no safety net. I was Brooks.
I did the motions for a while: work, home, work, home. While home I lost myself in the alternate reality of computer gaming. While working I lost myself in the one thing left in my life that still made sense. Work was my happy place. My desk became my happy thought when I was stressed.
I was stuck, and couldn't figure out how to get busy living again.
I had moments when I wondered how I was going to move on. I had to move out of the house. I had to save money for that. I had to act as my own attorney for a divorce because I suddenly realized I had no assets. I paid for my divorce by selling my wedding band and every piece of jewelry that my ex had given me, which was a very small amount: the ring, a pair of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet. My distaste for personal adornment didn't serve me well, when I had to raid my possessions to sell. There was almost nothing of monetary value.
Women with younger children get on living far sooner out of necessity: they have to; they have small children to care for. My baby was 17 and had the triple whammy of high school drawing to a close, childhood drawing to a close, and life as she knew it drawing to a close all at once. Rather than drawing together, I felt that we had drifted apart during this time. This I feel was my fault; as I simply couldn't see through my own pain to see what parts were her normal 17 year old growing up, or my 40-something growing up. Eventually, we got back together as a mother daughter unit...as adults.
But that was after my Brooks moment.
One night, tormented by abject emotional poverty from being alone, and longing to have any--just ONE--human being on the planet to whom I could have a conversation, come home to, share moments with... I placed an ad at a singles site. That act of hitting that send button...that was my Brooks moment. I made the decision to captain my own ship, and make my own life.
I was petrified.
It was my Brooks moment: I could get busy dying, or I could get busy living. I chose to keep looking, keep sharing, and keep trying. The worst had happened. It was all uphill from here, true...but, once I got to the top of that hill, how wonderful the view would be.
...and I was right.
Like Red, walking on a beach in Mexico toward Andy; eventually I met another. And when I did, I did as a whole person, not half of a whole. I survived my Brooks moment. I got busy living.
I found my own redemption.