Previously unfinished and unpublished. Drafting began on:
August 15, 2013:
When I was 18, I had the privilege of going with a couple of friends to see Forrest Gump at the now-and-forever-lost Cross County 8 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Perhaps it was the thrill of knowing the three of us could see Dumb and Dumber the night before it opened, for free, that made the experience memorable. But I disagree. Well, somewhat. What matters is that the experience was memorable, as the pieces I’ve taken from it still resonate with me today.
Forrest Gump, in a word, had changed my life, maybe for the worse. I had no idea it was capable of doing something so traumatic. Yet, therein lies the power of fiction, and, to a lesser degree, cinema. (You notice how cinema rhymes with enema? Yeah, I don’t suppose that’s coincidence.) Here I am watching Forrest run, and living a life that he doesn’t quite appreciate because he’s just living life as it’s given, thinking, “Why is that Jenny so blind or stupid?” yet, I’m enthralled. Forrest’s many adventures through history are enough to challenge anyone’s viewpoint on what they know. The changes to his own life force us to look inward and ask ourselves if we understand what’s happening. That’s actually kinda powerful, especially for something that came out of Hollywood. And this is the effect it had on me then, and it’s the effect that it has on me today. It isn’t just a movie to me; it’s a calling to rethink how I view my own life.
I don’t expect to play Championship Ping-Pong during a high-profile war any time soon, nor do I expect to inform our latest president that I have to pee, and I definitely have no plans to run nonstop from Alabama to the Pacific Coast, to the Atlantic, back to the Pacific, and so on while growing the greatest homeless beard ever. But I do expect to appreciate the little things more. Daily. I expect to look at life through simple eyes in the hope of leaving everything I care about uncorrupted in my mind. It doesn’t matter that my friend (Bubba) could lose his life for a hopeless cause, or my mentor (Lieutenant Dan) could lose his ability to stand from standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the love of my life (Jenny) could forsake my love to pursue cheap relationships and end up dying from it, or my family member (Momma) could simply drift forever into sleep because she’s getting too old or sick to stay awake. What matters is that I make the most of these relationships now, today, because all of them are destined to change or expire. I don’t want to watch them fall apart over circumstances I cannot control.
But they will fall apart. Eventually. The fact is I can’t stop my mom from getting older. The fact is my mentors are not all-powerful and can fall at any moment. The fact is my friends can get sucked into situations that, whether necessary or pointless, could pull them away from me. The fact is the love of my life could ignore my heart for so long that I can never rescue her. I may try to hold onto these relationships for as long as possible, but I can’t. Life is always happening. Life is always trying to kill it. Forrest Gump reminded me of that, even if it did so in a hauntingly beautiful way.
Forrest Gump also changed my thinking about the kind of relationships I wanted, giving me revelations that I still carry with me today, for better or for worse.
In the case of Lieutenant Dan, it made me grateful that I no longer have to watch a mentor spiral down toward the bottom of a rock, as he desperately and hopelessly claws for the top. Redemption is still possible, if he wants it, and that gives me hope. Not everyone I look up to wants to commit to the work necessary to climb out of that hole, unfortunately. My dad, my first mentor, had fallen in his hole and didn’t have the steely nerves to climb out, and he died before he could reach the top again. But I appreciated knowing that some still could. Today, I’m grateful that none of my mentors are spiraling down into dank pits where rocks are fat at the bottom. Redemption is awesome, but not needing it is even better.
In the case of Bubba, it made me want to include my friends into more aspects of my life. I still think it’s awesome that Bubba wants Forrest to help him run a shrimp company, and even more so that he offers him this proposition the day he first meets him on the bus. I don’t necessarily feel compelled to start a business with any of my friends, but it does encourage me to talk to them about any future-seeking path I’m considering. Before Forrest Gump, I was content with hanging out with them and talking about God, girls, school, and whatever else was important to me, but never really thought to include them in my journey through life, growth, and self-improvement. Talking about things really was enough. Thanks to Bubba, I saw a deeper value in what friendships are supposed to be and how they play into my life’s journey.
In the case of Momma, it made me appreciate that I still have a mom. I was able to see more clearly how a mother lays everything on the line to make sure her kids are taken care of. It made me more appreciative of the sacrifices she had to make over the years just to make sure I could survive. It made me more wary of the fact that, just like my days, her days are numbered and that I have to cherish each one as it’s given. It reminded me that I won’t have the luxury of calling out to her forever, so I have to be thankful for every moment that I still can.
In the case of Jenny, well, let’s just say that before Forrest Gump, I was like any other guy, wanting an instant relationship, and happy to find it in anyone who was willing to show an interest in me (that I was interested in, too). After Forrest Gump, I understood the value of building a friendship first, letting love grow from that friendship, and breathing that sigh of relief when the love is finally reciprocated. It also showed me what real love for another human being looks like. Forrest would not leave Jenny’s side, no matter what tricks she pulled, or what excuses she made for not being with him. He loved her and stuck with her until the day she died, and nothing was gonna compromise that. No one can tell me love looks like something else. I realized that that was what I wanted, a love built from friendship, that’s fired through trial, and perfected in time. The night I went home after seeing it in the theater, I asked God to send me a Jenny. Its effect on me was that profound.
All of that from a two-and-a-half-hour movie.
I’m not stupid, even if stupid is as stupid does (see what I did there?). Even if I have these relationships of quality, life has a way for pulling them loose, for taking them away from me. Those days are coming. Any excuse for not investing in a friendship, a love relationship, a partnership, a mentorship, or a family relationship is uncalled for because the opportunity to change our minds is soon to disappear. I’m not the kind of person to let go of people easily, and I’m not the kind of person who forsakes growth if growth is possible. Granted, I will let go if they want me to. And I’ll forfeit growth if they don’t want to put the effort in with me. But I don’t volunteer it. Time and circumstance will do that job for me.
And that’s all I have to say about that. (Stop groaning; you knew it was coming.)