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Hope: Take Two

I learned recently that the final scene of the movie The Shawshank Redemption is not the ending the director initially had in mind. If you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption – well, first of all, how is that possible? How have you not just fallen into watching it on a rainy Sunday afternoon because it happened to show up on television (like I have dozens of times)? Anyway…if you haven’t seen the movie, it ends with a man named Red being paroled from Shawshank prison after decades of incarceration. When Red is released, he travels to a location his friend Andy, who had earlier escaped from the prison, had told him about before his escape. There, beneath a great oak tree in the corner of a lonely Maine field, Red uncovers a box which contains an envelope full of cash and a letter from Andy inviting him to join him in his new life in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The last few scenes of the movie are of Red’s breaking his parole and making the trip to find his friend.

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember Red’s voiceover in these scenes, his musings about this final, unexpected journey. Here’s what he says:

I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

Powerful words for a man who earlier in the movie had said that hope was too dangerous a thing for someone who was trapped and powerless.

Now here’s the interesting part. In the final cut of the movie, the last shot is of Red finding Andy on a beautiful beach and the two men embracing as the Pacific Ocean laps the shore and the bright sun shines. It’s about the feel-goodiest feel-good ending to any movie ever. But this wasn’t the intended ending. In the original ending, the final shot was of Red on a bus, making his way to the Mexico border, looking out the window towards the future. But when test audiences saw that, they were disappointed. How could they leave the theater without seeing if Red got to see his friend and shake his hand? How could they walk away without knowing if Red’s hopes were answered? And so the director added an additional scene, and the reunion on the beach was born.

To be honest, I really like the idea of that original ending. Because listen to what Red is saying – “I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” We don’t really need to see the reunion on the beach, because in these words, we know that Red has already been healed. The future may be uncertain, but he has hope again, and it is the hope, and not the realization of it, that has made him feel human, whole, made new.

In this third month of sheltering in place, it can be easy for us to feel trapped and powerless. It’s easy for us to feel like hope is something fleeting, even dangerous – for us to ask, like those movie crowds, how we can possibly have hope when we don’t know the ending. But this is precisely the right time for hope. This is hope’s moment. Because hope is God’s assurance to us when we don’t know the ending (which is, let’s face it, all of the time). Hope is the future promise of God’s presence realized now. Hope can heal us now, bring us joy, release, purpose, connection – all right now.

And here is the best news – hope isn’t something we have to make ourselves. Hope is a gift, one of the three great spiritual gifts given to us by the God who loves us – faith, hope, and love. Hope is ours for the taking; it always ours to claim, no matter how uncertain the future may be.

And so today, we can hope to see our friends and shake their hands. Today, we can hope to see beauty in our lives we have seen only in our dreams. Today, we can hope.

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