“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” ~ Andy Dufresne.
I was flipping through the channels the other day, when I alighted on The Shawshank Redemption. It’s one of those movies that I always watch regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, or even where it is in the course of the story. It captivates me every time. I never really stopped to think about why that is; I just figured I really like the movie a lot. Tim Robbins’ performance as Andy Dufresne is probably his best, and Morgan Freeman as Red is equally spectacular. But this time I realized that what draws me in is that it is fundamentally a story about freedom and hope, and how the two go together. So, in the spirit of the 4th of July, I offer this perspective on freedom and wish everyone a wonderful holiday.
My favorite scene in the movie is the one in which Andy locks himself in the Warden’s office and broadcasts Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro over the PA system to the entire prison. The scene captures the power of truly beautiful music as everyone in the prison stops what they are doing to listen, the faces of the inmates showing surprise, confusion and wonder as the track plays. The moment is rudely and abruptly interrupted as the Warden’s henchmen break into the office and restore order to the prison.
Red narrates:I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.
When Andy completes his punishment in solitary confinement, he explains the reason behind his act of defiance:Andy: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you…haven’t you ever felt that way about music? Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here. Andy: Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget. Red: Forget? Andy: Forget that…there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside…that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours. Red: What’re you talking about? Andy: Hope.
I imagine these words would have even greater import if we were sitting in a prison cell. And even though we are not, we often inhabit prisons of our own creation, within our minds. We get trapped by and within limiting and self-defeating thoughts. We are possessed by the confining belief that other people are in our way and to blame for our inability to move freely. We think, if only I had this, or if only that would happen, everything would be better. And we pace around furiously within this cage of thoughts, always focused outside of us, when the answer is and was always within.
Instead, why can’t we learn to embrace that freedom is a state of mind? We don’t have to be in Shawshank to know that. We only need to look inside of ourselves to that place no one else can touch, where the hope that things will be better resides. We can be like Andy Dufresne and abide by the conviction of our belief that, regardless of our circumstances, we are truly free as long as we believe we are free.
Andrew D. Kang, JD, LICSW, is a former attorney turned licensed psychotherapist. His practice, Boston Professionals Counseling, LLC, focuses on helping attorneys and professionals with the issues they face and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.bostonprofessionalscounseling.com