Seeking Zihuatanejo

By Bill Mefford

One of my all time favorite movies is Shawshank Redemption. I have seen it probably a dozen times, but the first time I saw it was in the Kentucky Theater in Lexington, KY. The Kentucky Theater is a truly beautiful theater and amazingly no one was in the theater when I saw it - I saw it all alone. After it was done I sat in the theater alone soaking up the beauty and power of the movie and it’s message of hope and yes, redemption. Hope, of course, is the primary theme of the film as it sustains Andy Dufresne as he is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and spends almost two decades behind bars for it.

I still think about the messages of the film 25 years after I first saw it and most recently, I have found myself dwelling on two parts of the movie. One is when Andy comes to the realization that, despite his innocence and the hellish injustices he has suffered, he is likely going to be in prison for the rest of his life; his condition, his place, his future will not change. He is talking with his best friend inside prison, Red, and he says of the storm he finds himself in:

Bad luck I guess. Floats around. Has to land on somebody. It was my turn, that's all. I was in the path of the tornado.

I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has.

I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has. I was 27 years old when I first saw Shawshank and I honestly could not resonate with those lines at that time. But oh how I resonate with those words today. I expect many of us do.

Life, it seems at times, is a series of deconstructing events. Events happen to you, or even because of you, and the things you once believed in or values you once held dear are slowly eroded or whittled down by implications from those events that you never expected. Things happen beyond our control and while that is to be expected, what is not expected is how long the feelings of lostness can last. Years sometimes. For the last several years I have felt deeply this feeling of being lost in a storm that happened to me not of my own making. I have felt the bitterness of being treated unjustly, while having no recourse or way of seeking amends.

Injustice, though, can be somewhat softened by God’s grace. It can’t be righted that way, but it can be softened. However, what I did not expect has been the utter loneliness of being in the storm. When the storm first breaks on you so many people - friends, even acquaintances - gather around you and promise their support. They’ll never leave you. It is well-meaning and certainly appreciated, but I have keenly experienced how short-lived those well wishes are. When the heroic feelings of coming to the aid of a friend who was treated unjustly ebb and fade away, it no longer feels so heroic to stand alongside that friend when they are lost and searching. Proclamation is easy. Standing and bearing up a burden you might not entirely understand is monotonous and boring. I mean, I get it. It can frankly get old. So, friends move on. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant. They know where they are going. But you do not and it’s just a bummer to be around someone who is questioning and hurting, lost and unsure why the storm won’t pass. I know why friends move on, but it can be damn lonely.

And so, in the middle of the storm, in the midst of the loneliness, when you are just looking for a passion to keep you busy and fill the void, I remember the name of the place where Andy was going: Zihuatanejo (pronounced “siwataˈneho”). Zihuatanejo was the place that gave Andy hope. He dreamed of it, thought about it, longed for it. It’s the place he invites Red to come to as well. Zihuatanejo was Andy’s only hope in the midst of the storm that didn’t pass and it was what he bet his entire life on.

Zihuatanejo is what I am after, although it is not an island for me. I am not entirely sure what it looks like exactly. I just know it is a place where my passions find purpose and meaning. I am seeking my Zihuatanejo and I think I will know it when I get there. But I am not there yet and there are many days I am not sure I will find it. And so I resonate with Andy today and I say the name to myself as he did: Zihuatanejo. It is the only thing that keeps you moving when the storm will not pass.

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