Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Take Your Bravery With You, You Just Might Need It

If you have ever watched Forrest Gump, you might have felt, once the credits began rolling, a plethora of emotions. Sorrow and yet happiness, guilt and yet hope.
            If that film touches anything, it is compassion.
            However, there is a scene in the film which is only lightly touched upon for the purpose of the film and where the plot is going; a scene that I have pondered over for a while.
            After running across the United States of America for three years, two months, fourteen days and sixteen hours, Forrest has attracted a following of people who see the simpleminded, yet wonderfully profound, protagonist as the standard bearer of all that they believe in. His running is symbolic of self discovery, it is a rejection of competition - so these people believe it to be. Yet Forrest, who - during his journeying across the Land of the Free - just wants to run, never proclaims himself to be a herald of freedom or individuality or supreme mental strength. He runs because it's what he wanted to do when he set out on that very first day. It is in many ways for Forrest, a sojourn into a place of utter tranquillity.
            The tragic part arrives when he stops running and resolves to finally return home after declaring to his loyal followers that he is 'pretty tired'. One member of the crowd asks, 'now what are we supposed to do?'

Now, what are we supposed to do?

This small scene could so easily have been inspired by and used as a transposition of any situation where a leader, real or purported, hangs up his boots. Where somebody depended upon or admired by others, finally reaches the end of his fuel.
            I recently finished the novel Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont, and one of the characters mused briefly upon the idea that people converted to a certain faith, belief or system of existence are the ones who, with regard to their converted devotion, become the real fanatics.
            Immediately, I took a break from reading the book, to really consider the implications of that character's (not necessarily the writer's) view. And I think Esslemont, or the character, Bakune, has a point.
            When somebody's life is or has been veering into a downward spiral, careening towards unemployment, poverty and perhaps even homelessness, it is hardly surprising that people who suffer these circumstances might see any escape as the best possibility. Put yourself in the shoes of somebody who has to sleep between two cardboard sheets in the warrens of a city in the middle of winter. Firstly, if their shoes still have soles then maybe there's something to smile about. Yet, go further. They're impecunious down to the penny. What do they do? They beg. Of course they do. They are cold, starving and don't know when their bodies are going to finally call it a day. They don't beg with a beatific smile on their face, do they? Were I in that situation, I'd be embarrassed, of course I would. People are walking past wearing expensive suits with aureate inlay briefcases; teenagers strut back and forth blabbering down their expensive iPhones that their parents are paying for, and even the average Joe Blogs, with a MacDonald's coffee in one hand and a cheap newspaper in the other, his own coat a touch on the scruffy side, looks to be worth more than a beggar could hope to be worth, ever again. I'd be horrified the first time I asked somebody for spare change, because your first words to that person symbolize that you've got nothing. You have hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to go for you but up, and yet the ladder's first rung is an interminable walk away. You look tattered, ragged and you probably have a pungent stench to you from the rain that you slept in, and you wonder why people cross the road? Yet you need food to survive, and so what else can you do, other than ask and hope?
            For so many beggars or homeless people, this situation isn't their fault, and had I the money and an administrative team that could set up a charity, I'd try, but all I can do is spare the change for the cup of coffee that might reinvigorate them for one more day.
            Go back to these spiritually depleted people, and add in anybody who is going through a breakup, a bereavement or a state of stasis, where life simply isn't going anywhere for them.
            Now, what happens when somebody with a way out comes along?
            The way out doesn't matter. Whether it's an alcove in a warehouse by night, delivering drugs by day; whether you're standing on a cardboard box as a herald of Christianity, the words of the Bible beginning to seep into you as you go through the mindless tautology of repeating sermon after sermon day after day, or whether something better comes up, and before you know it, you're wearing the expensive suit and carrying the gold-seamed briefcase, you're probably not going to say 'No thanks, I prefer being homeless and freezing my socks off.' are you?
            Converts are the biggest fanatics. The next time you find yourself watching a film or reading a book, try to look out for this particular storyline. Maybe you'll see it. Obviously it's not in every film...
            Forrest Gump never even tried to convert the ragtag horde who jog behind him, and yet there they all are, seeing the glorious sunrises and travailing the bitter winds. All because they've got somebody who has - in their eyes - offered them a way out. Forrest Gump's lifestyle is the answer to their problems, so they see it. No bills to pay, no job to go to, just a man who doesn't seem to let anything hold him back from doing what he wants to do, and they love that.
            Yet, when Forrest finally retires, boy does the fur fly. The lifestyle of these people is threatened. Their solitude from the real world is faced with its toughest question - who will take up the mantle without Forrest Gump? Now what are we supposed to do? They placed their lives in the hands of a man who wouldn't know where to begin with managing them. What if a god/goddess existed with such a tenet of doing what they alone want to do, so long as it does not harm anybody? Where does the acolyte go if the god decides this world isn't for them anymore? Faith is a precious part of the human condition; to believe wholeheartedly in somebody or something is to show a loyalty that is profound, but with loyalty there must also come maturity and willingness. A maturity to accept that the high watermark of anything, be it a society, an existence, a lifespan, will slowly but surely begin to diminish and weaken with time. After this, mustn't there then be the willingness to see the need for a new standard bearer?
            Forrest Gump is not to be blamed for the sudden aimlessness of these followers. What separates him, most of all, is that he didn't offer these people a way out of their current issues; the people saw and contrived it in his actions. They made him their god, and when he stepped down from the stage, they were each too filled with ire to step boldly into his shoes and take up the pennant.
            If you choose to follow, be prepared to lead. It might just fall to you. 


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