CDR Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D., USN(Ret)
This is an opinion piece based on the film that my wife and I saw this morning and how it got me thinking about my own life–past, present, and prospective future. I was predisposed to it being a “chick flick” as they say, but was pleasantly surprised and captivated by its message. While the thread of consistency through the picture draws on a sacred reference, the more important, strategic meaning is one that can be of meaning–and of help–to anyone searching for answers to those things that trouble or haunt them. I welcome comments and sharing of your experiences…or just the hope that even one person who reads this may find the courage and humility to look inside themselves and have the faith to let someone into their challenges who can help.
This morning we saw the film “The Shack” in a local theater. I had seen the previews and knew it was a movie in which my wife was interested. It appeared to be somewhat of a human interest story…but until actually seeing the film, the depth with which it struck chords of the journeys that many people take when facing the many questions that come after a major loss, injury, or other traumatic events, I found myself riveted to the screen as the story unfolded and drew me deeper into it.
While the story presents in the context of a family, it is not unlike our family of Veterans and currently serving service members. When we lose someone–whether on the battlefield, as an expected consequence of a disease or injury, or through some unforeseen event like Veteran suicide–it hurts much like the loss of a brother or sister, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a son or daughter. In fact, I found the movie quite a cathartic experience, being able to relate on many levels, unfortunately…or is it fortunately?
The story is one of loss, of guilt, of blame, of not understanding, of not reaching out, of anger, of closure, of grief, and of forgiveness. Of course, I am not going to tell the story here because it would ruin the movie for those who choose to attend. Some of you may have heard the hubbub when the book came out about all the Christian flaws, inaccuracies, and other little nit-picking by the panel of Facebook self-appointed critics. In my opinion, it is more important to look beyond the religious references and view them as the means to a cohesive thread to tell the story of personal healing.
We often linger on significant events from our past; unfortunately, lingering on negative events typically far outlasts the influence of positive events. We are especially challenged when some people are able to move on from traumatic events while others remain mired in the darkness of its effects. It is then that we start to open chasms in our relationships, stop being open with each other, even dissociating ourselves from those we love and who love us. We take it on as “our problem” when, in reality, it is one that is shared by our families–both at home and our Veteran family. And yet, even though we knew that we had each others’ backs in conflict, we turn away from letting each other have our backs when we suffer our own inner conflicts.
In the film, the family is slowly being torn apart by those feelings of loss, guilt, and unforgiving anger–expressed both inward and outward. Many of us have been there–or are there. The journey of the father–the main character–is one that takes him on a road that brings him to grips with the past through reliving both introspective and sometimes painful experiences. Along the way–and without him consciously knowing it–the healing process had started. But the real healing came when the character transitioned from focusing on the past to focusing on the potential of the future…
Sometimes moving ahead is difficult–whether the constant reminder of physical injuries or the persistent or recurring pain of memories. These all can cause us psychological distress that can draw us back into the past and keep us from realizing the potential and promise of the future. One of the saddest situations is when we withdraw into ourselves and don’t let people in who can help us–even our closest family, friends, or professionals whom we chose to help us through our healing journey. Sadder still are those who we lose because never gain an understanding of “what feels wrong,” never reach out, and descend deeper into depression, loneliness, and despair…often ending up in the loss of a valuable life before their time.
I consider myself to be a relatively strong person as far as keeping it together psychologically is concerned; however, not quite a year ago, I finally took the steps to get the help that I had known I needed for two years prior but was too stubborn or proud to seek. It has made a positive difference; even though there are still bad times, I can now reach out and know that I am not going to be judged or told how I have to change to fix myself. I say this because the film “The Shack” may not be appropriate for those who are thrown back into the depths of despair easily by triggers. I do suggest seeing it with someone who knows you well–I am not one to release tears but this film was definitely one to which I encourage bringing that small, pocket-size pack of tissues because it hits home when you start to feel the transition from the past to the future possibilities in yourself.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the challenges of loss or injury–physical, mental, emotional, or a combination–please seek help. we can not–and should not–go through these challenges alone because there are many who are standing by and willing to lend a hand, lend an ear, give a hug, give respect, give understanding…give help unselfishly in many ways. Please–be honest with yourself, reach out, don’t be alone…