"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: get busy living or get busy dying."
In the movie, Dufresne finds himself living a life-long prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. After many brutal years inside, his unshakable spirit is not broken. Unlike most of his fellow inmates, who have resigned themselves to their fate and live day to day just going through the motions, Andy expects redemption and each day he takes whatever action he can to ensure that he will get it. I am quite certain that the story's writer, Stephen King, wanted to use this story to make us think about our own lives.
Each of us creates our life with the choices we make every minute of every day. We are often encouraged by friends, family and society to always make the 'safe' choices. Hold back love because you might get hurt. Choose a steady job with a comfortable income. Choose marriage. Choose conformity. Don't rock the boat. Be like everyone else. Don't stand out. Buy insurance. Save for your retirement. Be safe. Be comfortable. Ironically, if it is really security that you want, then perhaps one of the best places to find yourself would be inside an institution like Shawshank, where daily life is about as predictable as it can get. This is highlighted in the movie by the fact that inmates released on parole after serving long sentences found it almost impossible to cope in the unpredictable outside world.
Seeking security in our lives is what Andy would have called 'getting busy dying'. Make everything as safe as possible. Make everything as predictable as possible. Get comfortable and then just chalk off the days of our 'life sentence' until we are finally 'released'. Does choosing security really give us the sense of comfortable safety that we hope it will? I suggest that it does not at all. I suggest that, if anything, it leaves us feeling even more fear. Fear that we will lose our safe job. Fear that our spouse will betray or leave us. Fear that we won't have saved enough for retirement. Fear of what others think of us. Fear that we don't 'fit in'. Fear about whatever thing we are buying insurance for. On top of that, there can often be a very deep and nagging sense that we are missing out on all that life has to offer, a quiet desperation indicating that we have sold our very soul to buy a fake insurance policy. All this fear attracts the very things we fear so they are much more likely to appear in our lives.
There is, of course, an alternative to this. The alternative is to 'get busy living'. To do this, we need to embrace change and unpredictablity. We need to say 'bring it on' to life's ups and downs and continue to march forward and pursue our dreams with the unshakable determination shown by Andy. The irony is, there really is nothing to fear, but we can only find this out by taking a walk along that scary-looking path. If we take that walk, we soon realise with a mixture of relief and delight that we always have within us the strength to face any challenge that comes our way. If you are reading this, if you are still alive, you have already faced and overcome every single challenge that life has ever thrown your way and survived.
Each moment of our life is a new choice. It is never too late to make a different choice. It is never too late to get busy living, to dream lofty dreams about who we would like to and can be, to take a step into the unknown, safe in the knowledge that a place of real, unshakable security exists at all times within ourselves.
"And the day came
when the risk it took
to remain tight inside the bud
was more painful
than the risk it took to blossom."
- Anais Nin
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