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.

 

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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.

Steel Waters by Ken Coffman — a Sort-of Review

When I first saw the movie Lone Hero starring Lou Diamond Phillips, I wasn’t impressed. It seemed trite — a retelling of High Noon with outlaw bikers set against the background of a wild west show. Yet the next morning, as the story slowly sank into the backwaters of my mind, one scene after another percolated to the surface, and I found myself smiling at the sly humor and wry nuances I was discovering. Lone Hero is now one of my favorite movies, one that gets richer with each viewing.

This retrospective appreciation has happened with a few other films, but I until recently I never read a book that became better with aging. Most go in one synapse and out the other before sinking into oblivion, but Steel Waters by Ken Coffman refuses to stay there.

Coffman’s wry humor and gritty descriptions immediately captivated me, but his hero didn’t. I have no use for characters (or people) who bring about their own miseries. Glen Wilson walked away from his wife and farm for no other reason than because he thought needed to. When he ended up in a Bolivian jail, I didn’t care. And neither did he. He seems to have a great capacity for accepting the status quo until suddenly he wants something else. (Usually without knowing what that something else is.)

Still, Glen Wilson was unique and compelling enough for me to keep reading. He is a mixture of opposites: hard-boiled and quixotic, opportunistic and idealistic, down-to-earth and impractical. And I enjoyed the book.

As Steel Waters percolates, however, I see much that I missed. Sure, Glen Wilson brings about his own predicament, but he is a victim of his own unresolved wants. They pull at him, buffeting him from one wild adventure to the other. The book has an episodic feel to it, but all mythic journeys do, and in the end, that is what Steel Waters is: mythic.

You are familiar with the mythic journey template. It’s the basic format of Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunt for Red October. An ordinary person answers the call to adventure. Meets mentors, allies, enemies. Passes tests. Undergoes the supreme ordeal, seizes the reward, and finally returns home — a hero in truth. Or not. Coffman doesn’t follow the format exactly. Glen Wilson may or may not be a hero. He may or may not be changed. This is the beauty of the mythic journey template — it is infinitely changeable without ever losing its power.

So now I have to go back and reread Steel Waters with this percolation in mind, see the layering of the nuances and the humor. I’ll let you know if it’s as good the second time around as it is in memory.

See also: Pat Bertram Introduces Glen Wilson, Hero of Five Ken Coffman Novels

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