Anatomy of a Scene – Suds on the Roof

“For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen.”

Sometimes, it pays to speak up and be heard even if you’re a convicted felon. Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) is a few years into his prison stint at Shawshank State Prison in rural Maine. He proclaims his innocence to Red (played by Morgan Freeman, his good friend in the prison, who still has a hard time believing him even though the two have become close first as Andy’s provider of cigarettes and posters of centerfold actresses and models but has become more of a confidant despite being skeptical of Andy’s claims of innocence. He tells Andy “Everyone in Shawshank is innocent, don’t you know that?”

As Red also explains, prison is no fairytale world and Andy runs into a rough crowd of prisoners who sexually assault and physically beat him to a pulp. Prison becomes very routine in that Andy tries to fend off his attackers, does his duty at the massive laundry room, and collects rocks in the yard to shape and polish with his rock hammer as a hobby to pass the time. Red also exclaims in the film, “Prison time is slow time…and a man will do almost anything to keep himself occupied.”

It is through his budding friendship with Red and his connections to the outside world that they can finally break the monotony of prison life and to have a small taste of freedom by bribing a few of the prison guards with cigarettes and whiskey to win the job of tarring the license plate factory roof. While it is arduous, backbreaking, and tiresome; it’s also Summer in Maine, a “fine month to be working outside”, and comes with more outside time in the prison and other special privileges, according to Warden Norton. With a small bribe and maybe some extra names in the sorting hat, Andy, Red, and their associated group of inmates win the job with no other prisoners being suspicious of how they won the prized work outside.

This scene that I like to call ‘Suds on the Roof’ focuses on the men at work with the hot tar with the summer heat bearing down on them. The head of the Prison guards gets fleshed out as a character when we learned that his brother died as a rich man being worth over $1 million dollars, which in the early 1950s would be 20x the amount today in 2021. Byron Hadley, being the vindictive, petty, and cruel man that he is likes to play the victim on how he is only getting $35,000 from his brother despite calling him an ‘asshole’ to the other guards and complaining on how it’s not enough or how the government and others will take some of that money he didn’t earn but inherited. This is a brilliant detail at the beginning of the scene to show just how pathetic and small he could be as a character, which is great writing by the film’s writers, because you begin to grow to detest how vile a person that Byron Hadley is.

Andy Dusfresne, our main character in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ overhears Byron’s ‘tale of woe’ about inheriting money from his recently deceased brother and seeks to take advantage of the situation by knowing that his tax and finance knowledge as a banker may play to his advantage. The way he stops mopping the tar, walking over awkwardly, and coming up from behind with the guards’ backs turned away from him is terror-inducing when you first see this scene. Andy’s crew, including Red, implore and yell at Andy to keep ‘his eyes on the mop’ and not to antagonize a vicious man that Byron is because they know from experience how senselessly brutal and violent, he can be to the inmates for no reason at all.

Andy, in this scene, he is as cool as a cucumber and basically tunes out their pleas of him to keep mopping and ignore Hadley’s tale of woe. Andy goes up to Hadley and says a few choice words that almost get him killed within the next few seconds. “Mr. Hadley, do you trust your wife?” That simple sentence has a lot of implications such as that she may be cheating on Byron and has been unfaithful to him but it’s really about Andy asking about their financial relationship although his poor choice of words almost leads to Byron throwing him off the roof of the license plate factory and then calling it an ‘accident’ with the outside world beyond Shawshank none the wiser about his actual premeditated cause to murder Andy.

“Because if you do trust her…there’s no reason that you can’t keep that $35,000!” …In just a few seconds, Andy’s quick thinking and knowledge of one tax-free gift to your spouse or wife helps keep Byron from throwing Andy off the roof to certain death. Andy is trying to save Byron some money and exclaims quickly that he can give his money up to $60,000 in a tax-free gift hence why Andy awkwardly started to ask him if he trusts her implying if he would trust her with such a large sum of money and if she would take care of it properly for him. Byron knows Dufresne as all the guards do as a ‘smart banker’ who ‘killed his wife’ and is worried that what Andy is advising him to do would be illegal and get him in trouble with the IRS and the law.

Andy assures him that this tax-free gift is entirely legal and if he doesn’t believe Andy, Byron can ask the IRS to check and make sure. Byron still looks down on Andy and doesn’t need his help to get all the money, but Andy replies fast that unless he wants to pay lawyers or a financial advisor to do it, which would cost a lot of money, Andy exclaims while hanging from the edge of the rooftop that he would do it for Byron nearly free of charge! Andy only needs the forms to start preparing him and the only cost that he asks for in return are a few beers for him and each of his “co-workers”, which is a hilarious aside that Andy would refer to his convicted inmate friends as co-workers rather than fellow prisoners. Even though they are in prison for life, most of them, they still form bonds of friendship to survive in terrible conditions, with a sociopathic warden and a vicious head prison guard preparing to harm or even kill them if they step out of line.

Now, the most surprising thing about this scene is that the ‘nearly free of charge’ refers to a specific brand of beer, “Bohemia style” as Red puts it and for them to be “icy cold” especially to quench the thirst of the hard-working prison crew toiling to tar the roof day in and day out. Andy, in a sense, wants to feel like he is doing his banking job again and instead of receiving a salary for just himself as he did before, he instead wagers his life to get beers not only for himself but for his crew of friends he recently established. He is selfless in this way in that he does not think only of himself but thinks of those others who deserve that small moment of freedom by drinking “cold ones” on the roof at “ten o’clock in the morning.” For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen. For Andy, it was to help him feel a bit less like a convict in a prison on a life sentence and a little more like a free man, if only for a short while.

I believe Andy wanted to feel a bit more normal such as like him and his friends were tarring the roof of their own houses and to sit with the sun on their shoulders and feel free and have a bit of happiness in grim circumstances that they find themselves in day in and day out with little hope to their chances of getting out of prison. As Red indicates towards the end of the scene, they can make Byron, the guard, seem magnanimous or even ignored altogether because they have sun and they have cold beers and they have each other, which is more than the convict crew has had all together in years probably.

Andy is selfless to the end in this scene showing his true character as not of a cruel murderer but someone who even if unclear yet to the audience was wrongfully convicted, whose intentions were pure, and who missed his previous life as a banker and wanted to “feel normal again, if only for a short while” as Red so eloquently puts it. In this scene, we begin to see Andy’s true nature as a human being: awkward and clumsy at first but very brave, empathetic, and a kind heart that not only Red’s friends realize from his selfless act but that the guards also see even if they have to follow Hadley’s orders in dealing with him. Andy was offered a ‘cold one’ at the end of the scene but tells one of the convict tarring crew that he gave up drinking.

Red speculates to the audience watching as to why Andy would refuse the beers that he almost died to get but then realizes in the narration that it wasn’t about getting the beers at all or helping Hadley get wealthier, it was to have that freedom to choose again, to have a choice without asking for permission all the time from the guards, and to feel a bit of life again within the drab and gray walls of Shawshank. The freedom of choice is directly related to having free will, which was taken away completely from Andy and other prisoners. He wanted to restore it again briefly to have a bit of normalcy and break up the sheer monotony and harshness of prison life.

Andy would like to think and have again for a moment where he is not a mere convict but a human being worthy of some simple dignity, choice, and a small taste of freedom for some brief moments asking for those cold beers and if he must almost die for that freedom, it was worth it to him in the end. That feeling of ‘normalcy’ to Andy as Red puts it was the real driver for him to put himself at risk and to feel good about it after, to smile and feel some small sense of happiness that had been missing for so long. Lastly, Andy did not just do it for himself but to help his friends who had sustained his spirit in the drab prison even after being beaten, abused, and almost worked to death in the laundry room. It is not he who deserves to feel somewhat normal again alone but his crew as well who worked tirelessly to mop hot tar in the summer without any prospect of real rewards or gratitude. The beers were not just for him but for Red and for the others to feel like ‘free men’ and to be the ‘lords of all creation’ in their minds and in their hearts, if only for a short while.

Expectations vs. Reality

An important part of maturing and becoming a fully functional adult is to keep your expectations in check and to manage them as to not conflict with what the reality of the situation is. Keeping your expectations in check is difficult to do but it is necessary in order to not let an oversized ego, or arrogance, or selfishness keep you from becoming the person you should be. One has to always be prepared for reality to not line up with our initial expectations. You can never really be fully certain of how things in life are going to shape up to be. A true sign of maturity is wishing for the best but understanding that you could be in for disappointment and setbacks even when you think that everything can turn out fine.

The word ‘expectations’ can be synonymous with being ‘unrealistic’ because you are hoping for things to be better than average and to be better than you hoped they could be. Often times, things are about the same as you would expect or can even be worse if you set your expectations too high. Keeping your expectations in check will also to help keep both your emotions and feelings in check as well. There are a number of things one can do in order to measure expectations enough to keep them in line with reality. They include focusing on the present, cultivating patience, and taking the good with the bad. These three keys alone will help anybody’s reality win out over their expectations. While having expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, having too many expectations that are unrealistic or impede your ongoing hard work and efforts will make the reality of that situation worse. Keeping your expectations realistic is something we all must do as adults.

Focusing on the Present: Controlling what we can and not worrying about the things outside of our control goes a long way towards keeping our reality in line with what our expectations should be. Doting too much on the future without having a plan for today is a recipe for disaster in terms of not being able to meet your expectations. It is good to set goals and to set your sights high, but the efforts and the work must be there as well. If you are not working on your goals in the present, you can expect your reality to look differently in the future if you were not actively working towards achieving them in the here and now.

Day-to-day expectations that are measurable and quantifiable are more easily met rather than those that are months or even years away. You cannot be worried or distracted about what could happen three months from now, but you should rather focus on what you are doing now to increase your happiness and satisfaction. You can only control your actions and your behaviors, which will save you a lot of angst and anxiety when you focus on what can be controlled and to focus less on what is out of your control especially for what is still away on the horizon of your life for which you are totally unsure of what is to come. The older I get, the more I realize it is good to plan for the long-term, but to expect things to change the further away from your current present reality are. Focusing on things on a day-to-day basis is part of a recipe for fulfilled expectations and kept promises.

Cultivating Patience and Perspective: Being able to understand that life has both its good and bad events, and you never know how things are really going to shake out is a true sign of keeping your expectations in check. We tend to think a new city, a new job, a new house, more money will fulfill us but sometimes, our expectations can fall short because we set them so high. We sometimes do the opposite in terms of cooking a meal for family members, volunteering at a homeless shelter, cleaning the house, or buying a gym membership in that we think it will not be as fun or fulfilling in reality but those kind of activities end up fulfilling us more than the former. Obviously, we set our expectations high or low based on our personal histories, personal biases, and our own desires and goals.

However, regardless of what we think will be awesome or what we think will be crummy can balance out more if we are able to cultivate patience regarding how any of our life events will shape out. You may not be satisfied with something on day one but then really love it by day 100. When it comes to expectations vs. reality, you have to show patience regarding both because what you expect to be good can end up being bad and what you expect to be bad can really end up being good.

Having perspective on what is going on with our lives can help us as well because our reality may not be what we expect but we can express gratitude for what good things we have to balance out what disappointments or ills that have befallen us previously. If you can count your personal blessings each day, you will be happier with your reality and you can better measure your expectations. Knowing that your perspective on life is totally unique compared to everyone else’s is comforting because your reality is going to be different in many ways from your fellow family members, friends, or work colleagues.

What you are going through cannot be adequately compared to other people because their reality and their expectations are never going to be the same. You can only be patient, be grateful, and realize that you should put your life in perspective as much as you can to remember that life has its ups and downs, and you should never get too low or too high because of it. Everyone has their good days and their bad days, and you never really know what people are going through because everyone has a different reality and different expectations of who they are, what they expect, and who they hope to be.

Taking the Good with the Bad: As I mentioned earlier, reality can bite sometimes especially when your expectations were sky high so anything in life is not going to be as rosy as you first imagined it. Even if something awesome happens in your life and you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine, you can be sure that there will be some small annoyances that come with it. Nothing is ever 100% good, and nothing is ever 100% bad. Similar to walking on ‘Cloud Nine’, you could be ‘down in the dumps’, but realize that your pain is temporary, and nothing lasts forever. The highest high and lowest low will pass and most of life is somewhere in the middle for which you make the best of and strive to meet expectations that only you can hold yourself accountable to. You can’t hold others accountable for standards that they can’t reach as much as you want them to for your own peace of mind. The world does not work that way. You have to hold yourself accountable and be that positive example for others.

You are always in a constant battle of Reality vs. Expectations but in this case, there is not going to be a clear winner. Sometimes, life will exceed expectations, other times, life will fall short of your expectations. The key thing to keep in mind is how do you react to both successes and setbacks in a mature and clearheaded way. You can get discouraged or be ecstatic, but you have to remember that life is about having patience, keeping it all in perspective, taking the good with the bad, and always focusing on the present and the here and now over the past and the future. If you can do these things, regardless of when reality wins or when expectations win out, you will be the winner as well because you will have cultivated the emotions, habits, and overall maturity needed to make it through both life’s ups and its downs.

The Last Full Measure

This past weekend, I was able to visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the most notable battle of the American Civil War, and one of the biggest battles in American military history. The battle of Gettysburg is also notable for being the main turning point of the Civil War. The outcome of the battle concluded with the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, being prevented from invading further into the Northeast. Lee and his army were forced to retreat back into Virginia after the battles’ end and never again stepped foot in Union-controlled territory.

Set over a period of three days from July 1st – July 3rd of 1863, over 51,000 men from the Union and Confederate armies were killed, wounded, captured, or declared missing. It was the largest land battle ever fought in North America. More than 160,000 soldiers from both sides fought in the battle during those three tumultuous days with the town of Gettysburg and its civilians’ being caught in the crossfire. The battle of Gettysburg was fought on fields, marshes, hills, and sloping ridges over 10 square miles and around 6,000 total acres. In addition to the battlefield, Gettysburg is also home to a national soldiers’ cemetery close to the battlefield where the thousands of Union and Confederate troops, now long passed away, are ensconced in their final resting place.

The first thing one notices about Gettysburg is just how quiet and peaceful it is. One would have never guessed that a major battle had been fought here or that thousands of lives had been lost while fighting for their principles and values. The battlefield of Gettysburg, now devoid of soldiers and horses, still retains its wooden barriers, its replica cannons, and artillery. The National Park Service should be commended for restoring the grounds of the battlefield and keeping it clean for the more than one million plus tourists who visit the national military park each year.

What I was most surprised and pleased about during my visit was the amount of memorials, monuments, and tributes paid to the thousands of soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides. The armies, brigades, corps, divisions, etc. from each of the thirty states on both sides of the Civil War are each commemorated and memorialized in some form.

The most striking memorial to me was Pennsylvania’s state monument, the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all. The Pennsylvania monument lists all of the soldiers’ names that fought for the commonwealth in the battle of Gettysburg. This monument in particular is Greco-Roman in design and has tributes to President Abraham Lincoln, and to notable soldiers and commanders from Pennsylvania. It also overlooks the entire battlefield of Gettysburg and can be seen from every part of the area.

Another notable memorial from the Gettysburg National Military Park can be found at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the center of the cemetery and overlooking the thousands of graves lying in repose is the Soldiers’ National Monument. This monument pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg and is unique in quoting an allegory at its’ base that states, “Peace and plenty under freedom…following a heroic struggle.” In addition, this soldiers’ monument depicts the concept of ‘Liberty’ signified by a woman who carries a sword of war, while holding a wreath of peace. At the base, there are four separate statues representing ‘War, History, Peace, and Plenty’ in a chronological, circular order. In total, there are over 1,300 monuments, memorials and tributes at Gettysburg. It’s nearly impossible to see them all without spending a week or more at the battlefield because they are spread out over miles and miles of land. This is why it is known for being “the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world.”

You cannot come to Gettysburg without learning about the Gettysburg Address, and the process that led to President Lincoln delivering this famous and historic speech. While the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the speech is not open to the public at this time, you can still see into the cemetery to view the general speech area. In addition, park rangers from the National Park Service are available for questions about the Gettysburg Address and a tour of the cemetery upon formal request. There’s also a bronze statue and monument of Lincoln’s bust along with an emblazoned copy of the entire Gettysburg Address close to the cemetery’s entrance.

American history was one of my favorite subjects from my high school days. The ability to go and visit historical battlefields like Gettysburg, Normandy, Lexington and Concord brings the history to life for me. I’ve been lucky enough so far to see some of the most notable locations of the American Revolution, Civil War, and World War II.

By visiting these places, you gain a great sense of gratitude and reverence around the conflicts, which these men fought and died in. You can better understand the costs and sacrifices that come with making war. Its’ also good to appreciate what we have today in our united country. There were times in our collective past as a nation when the concept of a ‘United States’ was very much in peril. Hopefully, we can continue to avoid the mistakes of the past, and learn from these dreadful conflicts.

The importance of seeking a brighter and peaceful future for our nation and the world is what I took from my visit to Gettysburg. These memorials, monuments, and the military park remind visitors and patrons alike why peace is something to strive for, even if it comes at a great cost. Sometimes, peace can only come through means of warfare, and that is why we give thanks to those men who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”

To learn more about the Gettysburg National Military Park, you can visit these websites for more information:

1.) https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

2.) http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org

The Season for Gratitude

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“What are you grateful for?”

Gratitude is an important attribute that often gets overlooked nowadays with the fact that the instant gratification and fast-paced living of our culture takes precedence. However, in light of the recent terrible and horrific events that have occurred in Beirut, Paris, Ankara, and elsewhere, it’s important to take note before the upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the upcoming New Year of what we should be thankful for having in our lives.

It is relatively easy for people to take for granted the luxuries and conveniences that we have in the modern world. Most of us should look inwards to realize just how lucky and fortunate we are. There are people within our own country and other countries around the world that still struggle with poverty, homelessness, disease, violence, war, environmental changes, and terrorism. While we may not all suffer from the same problems depending on the country, we share the planet together and the empathy to understand that the whole of humanity is still in this together. I plan to use the upcoming holiday season, especially Thanksgiving, to reflect on what I am thankful for in this world and to reflect on this past year.

That is the true spirit and meaning of these holidays. It is the chance to spend time with loved ones, enjoy great food and drinks, but to also reflect and think of how fortunate you may be in this crazy world of ours. The new iPhone or the next gadget is not what makes the holiday season special. It’s our strong connection to our friends and family, our ability to reflect on the recent changes of our lives, and to be thankful for how good the world can be sometimes regardless of how ugly it can look to us at other times.

Here are the reasons why I’m thankful in 2015:

-I have a great family and a solid group of friends who will have my back and support me in whatever I choose to pursue, even if I decide to move halfway around the world on a whim. My parents, my brother, and other close family and friends help me to be a better person and inspire me to achieve more and set my goals higher.

-I live in a great country, which affords me a lot of opportunities if you work for them and have an open mind. It may have its flaws like any country does in this world but I’m proud to be a citizen of this nation and I’m grateful to have been born and grown up here.

-I have access to clean water, electricity, good food, and great health facilities that allow me to stay healthy and live well compared to others in this world that aren’t as fortunate.

-I can read countless books, educate myself in various subjects, and access the Internet to help me understand the world better and learn more to obtain more knowledge, make myself smarter. I don’t know what I would do without access to the Internet but for countless millions, they still aren’t able to take advantage of this precious resource.

-I enjoy making money from a profession that helps people in different countries around the world and it is a fulfilling job that I really like and has benefited my life in different ways.

-I am glad that I started this blog of mine two months ago, which has helped me to develop my writing abilities and make this hobby of mine a reality. I have some big plans for this website in 2016 and I am looking forward to sharing my future plans with my loyal readers very soon.

-I am happy to have had the unique ability to travel to many countries around the world so far at my age and I have learned so much from those experiences. It’s provided me great insight about different histories, cultures, foods, and societies, which is why it is so important to get your passport and get out there. Not many people are able to travel unfortunately and I hope that will change in the future as the world becomes more and more globalized. However, I’m not done traveling yet and I am looking forward to continuing my adventures in 2016 and beyond.

I will be taking a bit of a hiatus from my blog over the next two weeks to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. In the meantime, check out my blog entry archives, look at my travel photography, and get in touch with me if you would like to.

I wish my readers in the United States a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving(!). For my international readers from around the world, I encourage and implore you all to realize the importance of having gratitude within you and to share it with your fellow man and woman.