At a wedding I attended years ago, the father of the bride said something that’s stayed with me. He talked about growing old, and losing the wonder and hope we were flush with as kids. Careers, marriages, and children occupy all our time. They begin to chip away at our hope and innocence. Whether it’s the manic excitement of a sleepover with friends, the endless promise of your first love, or summer days that seem to last forever, those feelings are never as pure or as acute as they were when we were young. He stressed that as we aged, it takes work to preserve those feelings, to even have the capacity to experience hope and wonder.
You’ll find the themes of hope and innocence woven throughout the four novellas that comprise Stephen King’s DIFFERENT SEASONS, warped and broken as they may seem. The ways in which they’re tested, sustained, mangled, or transformed are often uncomfortable but always captivating.
No one would fault Andy Dufresne for abandoning hope. In “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” Andy is sentenced to two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover. The cell door slamming shut that first night is the beginning of a dark new reality for Andy, one filled with sadistic prison guards, corrupt wardens, and the lingering threat of violence and sexual assault. It isn’t until he’s befriended by another “lifer” named Red that Andy recognizes hope can be an undeniable weapon against conformity and corruption.
Todd Bowden makes a friend as well. In “Apt Pupil,” the all-American teenager discovers his elderly neighbor, Arthur Denker, is a Nazi war criminal, responsible for the murders of countless Jews. Bowden’s innocence crumbles as he enters the deep waters of a psychological battle of wits with the old man. Todd’s simple poking and prodding of the old man’s past only serves to awaken the dormant monster within Denker.
“The Body” centers around the journey of four twelve year-old boys, best friends who set out to find a dead body hidden in the woods of their hometown. The themes of innocence and hope are most acutely felt here, as the boys wrestle with adolescence and the uncertain trajectories of their individual families. The lessons they learn camping under the moonlight, walking side-by-side through the forests and streams, serve as a warm reminder of just how big and wild the world can seem when we’re young. The novella was turned into the memorable film “Stand By Me.”
Finally, “The Breathing Method” deals with the expecting Sandra Stansfield and her physician, Dr. Emlyn McCarron. The physician is a member of a wealthy gentlemen’s club, one in which its members gather every December before Christmas to tell one another a story. Dr. McCarron’s story of the doomed Ms. Stansfield and her tragic accident is arguably the greatest lesson in hope in DIFFERENT SEASONS.
I’ve heeded that father of the bride’s message. Even as I see lines forming around and under my eyes and can feel my ankles and knees deteriorating, I know, just as Andy Dufresne says, “that hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
I hope you do, too.