The Length of the Chain Between the Imagination and the Stake of Reality

Last night I rewatched The Long Way Home, a 1998 Hallmark movie starring Jack Lemmon. While this is not his best movie (oh, wait — maybe it is. I never particularly liked most of his movies), it certainly spoke to me considering my present situation.

In a way, our circumstances are the opposite — I have too few loved ones left and he has too many. In my case, the house where I am living (my father’s house) will soon be sold out from beneath me, and I will be left to fend for myself. In his case, his children made the decision to sell his home after the death of his wife and have him move in with them. He is lost, doing not much of anything but sitting around, having accepted their belief that he needs to be protected from the death sentence supposedly conferred by old age. (He is only 75, which might be old, but not in my world where my mother lived strongly to 85, my father did it “his way” until he was 97, and my forever young dance teacher is 78 going on 48.)

But both Jack and I are poised on the precipice of a new life, struggling to find meaning, purpose, focus in the light of our losses.

I’ve been trying to envision various ways of continuing my life, perhaps traveling, and that is what Jack does — goes on a road trip. After a minor accident where he couldn’t make it home, he meets a college student on her way to Monterey where she will have to deal with her own family situation. Impulsively, instead of going back to his son and daughter-in-law, he decides to go with her, taking the long way home to his children in Kansas. (Kansas — a possible homage to the Wizard of Oz, the ultimate road trip / long-way-home movie?)

The main theme of this movie for me is freedom. The college student tells Jack, “Freedom is the length of the chain between the imagination and the stake of reality.” (She says it in such a way that it sounds like a quote rather than a spontaneous outburst, but I haven’t been able to find the citation anywhere.)

I never quite understood this quote, despite having seen the movie two or three times, but now I’m getting an inkling of what it means. Reality imposes such harsh rigidity on us, tying us to the necessities of taking care of others and ourselves, and keeping us bound to the inevitablity of death. And yet, and yet . . .

Our imaginations take us elsewhere, enabling us to envision other possibilities, which lengthens the chain that binds us, and sets us free to live not in the darkness left behind by our loved ones who are gone, but “in the light” of them.

The poster that hangs above the door of “my” dance studio.



Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

8 Responses to “The Length of the Chain Between the Imagination and the Stake of Reality”

  1. Mildred Gordon Says:

    Freedom. Such a delicious word. I can see that chain. So happy it is no longer attached to me.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Delicious and scary at the same time, because although you have freedom from, you still have to contend with freedom for, and it’s the “for” that’s confusing.

  2. Carol Louise Wilde (Carol Wuenschell) Says:

    I really liked this post. I haven’t seen that movie, but I can relate to your response to it.

  3. Constance Says:

    I don’t remember seeing that movie. should check it out. Interesting.

  4. Ree` Edwards Says:

    “Our imaginations take us elsewhere…
    Always said, “The mind is the worlds biggest (and greatest) stage”, as I listened to all the magical radio programs on our big radio/record player while sitting with my ear plastered next to it and during WW ll. (And the big band sound? Loved it!)

    Ah, my dear Pat,
    Liked very much your last paragraph — and the poster summed it all up… nicely.
    Gave away my age here, but who cares, I sure don’t and always considered it/them/what-the-heck-ever, nothing more than what they truly are, just numbers.

    Freedom. That for me now, means so very much more than it has my entire life.
    I have, (however ineptly it may have been), walked the fine line of reality and grief (tempted to say sanity but that wouldn’t be entirely true) for so very long now. And I was getting so tired — of everything.

    Now, I can honestly say I have, in the truest sense of the word, Freedom.
    Freedom from the mental anguish, pain, grief, and gut wrenching heartache all anchored firmly in the core of my innermost being. “The why, Lord, why?”, no longer a part of my vocabulary.

    And it is wonderful. Life is good, and there is a reason and a purpose for my being here.


  5. Ree` Edwards Says:

    Dear Pat,
    Please forgive the above ranting — the ‘all about me’ thing. I told you in an earlier post (somewhere!) that, ” I was so far behind in reading your blog I didn’t know if I would ever catch up”.
    I hadn’t gotten to the one about the death of you father. I am so sorry for sounding so very selfish in writing about me. (and more than a little embarrassed.)
    Please accept my sincere sympathy over yet another loss. It appears you are doing pretty well at the moment, and I so love the ‘gypsy spirit’ you have. Much like that of my cuz, Deborah Owen. (Sometimes wish I could, just momentarily, be more like that.)

    I’ve lived in the same home 30 years and counting now, and can’t begin to imagine ever leaving here. This is my earthly
    home to me and very comforting. (Oh, I like to travel a lot, but always so glad to get back ‘home’.)
    I literally bathe myself in the warmth of the many, many wonderful memories, the pool parties, cook-outs, friends and family gatherings (I cooked back then lol), all the wonderful things of times past and now know how truly blessed I was to have
    shared the lives that were only ‘loaned’ to me for those wonderful years. (God owns it all!)

    It, in no way,remotely resembles the home shared with loved ones now gone… my blessed hubby who would come home from work and never know what new floor, wall taken out, color changed in any given room, etc., etc., — and he never, ever minded. (And at the risk of sounding less than humble, always turned out nice.)
    Too, I’m a never ending “wanna-be-interior-designer”. Surviving sister told me I’d probably lost 100 sq. feet of living space due to re-painting the walls! Ehh, what can I say, I get bored easily.

    The latest post I read, and your dancing ‘adventure’ on stage, was great and you looked “mahvelous darling, simply
    mahvelous”! (think Billy Crystal here)
    Be Blessed,
    No, I don’t worry about proper grammar when writing on a blog as you no doubt noticed.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Ree, Please do not feel the least bit embarrassed about anything you posted here. I knew you would get around to the information about my father, and your losses are every bit as important as mine, and certainly more tragic. It’s wonderful that you have such a home, one that you can change to suit your whim. I like your idea that those who shared our life were only loaned to us. It makes it easier to comprehend.

      And, oh — how sweet of you to comment on how mahvelous I look in my costume. Dance has truly been a lifesaver for me.

      Please keep stopping by and leaving whatever comments you wish whenever you wish. You as much as I need this place to dump our sorrows.

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