Out of all the impossible yet occasionally pondered thoughts I have at my age, the one that’s most intriguing to me is the one which Morgan Freeman’s character Red brought up in the 1994 movie version of Stephen King’s “The Shawshank Redemption” during the parole hearing that finally led to his release.
As a movie many find difficult to turn off when channel surfing, including me in a subset of flicks that include “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Godfather” and its sequel and the John Garfield-Lana Turner version of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” many of you should remember the scene.
Andy Dufresne has already made his great escape and was waiting for a potential reunion in Zihuatenajo, Mexico, where a life far from the cruelties of Shawshank Prison and close to the beckoning warm Pacific Coast waters awaits when Red faces the parole board again. When asked if, after serving 40 years of a life sentence, he feels he’s been rehabilitated, Red counters with a double query, “What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?”
When the parole voice asks if he is sorry, what follows is, for my money, one of the most powerful pieces of dialogue in any movie you’re likely to hear.
“There’s not a day that goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here or because you think I should be. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him, tell the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a (expletive) word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a (expletive).”
Even after such a dismissive and irreverent response to a board who had his fate squarely in their hands, Red is indeed granted his freedom for his eventual reunion on a stretch of Mexican sand. As for the most interesting part of Red’s response, well, for me, that’s easy.
It’s that hypothetical yearning to talk to the young stupid kid he once was. While I really was too young at 43 the first time I saw the movie to target that yearning to be able to talk to the younger version of myself, now, soon to be 24 years later, I understand that desire.
Just what would I say to the younger version of me? While I don’t have the kind of regret that someone like Red who took another man’s life would have, I do have regrets. And, there is one that comes to me on occasion, one I’m thinking, former mean little smart alecks periodically ponder as well.
Back in my growing-up late 1950s-early ‘60s, I was able to do many things I could never do today, among them was sitting Indian style on the floor (pardon the political incorrectness) with arms folded across my chest and standing up without unfolding my arms.
And, of course, I could easily scissors jump over Doc Fledderjohann’s hedge to retrieve an errant Wiffle ball without rustling a sprig. Of course such things I do not regret about my childhood growing up in the 1500 block of Latham Avenue. However, what I do regret are my periodic attempts to make my cohorts laugh at the expense of others.
To this day, I can remember the names and faces of those this stupid kid would disparage. The fact that I hung around with others who did likewise doesn’t mitigate my behavior in the least.
To the girl we called Whitey, whose only offense was she had a platinum head of hair which a few short years later we would see as alluring, I have regrets about those taunts on Green Bus No. 1. To the neighborhood boy that we called Turtle because we knew he wasn’t as quick with a comeback when we were all cracking wise during our silly games, I have regrets. And, to the girl who was battling some early adolescent weight issues that we called Bruiser, I have regrets.
Yes, like Red, I’d like to talk to that young, stupid kid and tell him how things really are, and, in my case, it would be a discussion that would center on the brevity of life and the need to be kind to one another while we are here.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.