“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both, maybe both happening at the same time.” Forrest Gump, at Jenny’s Grave.
The prominence and symbolism of feathers looms large in Forrest’s story. We learn most of Forrest’s story while he is sitting at a bus stop in Savannah, Georgia. In the opening scene a feather slowly drifts down, landing by Forrest’s muddy shoes. Forrest picks up the feather, puts it in his copy of Curious George, and then begins telling his life story to the woman seated next to him. The listeners at the bus stop change regularly throughout his narration with each listener showing a different attitude to Forrest’s story ranging from disbelief to indifference to rapt attention.
At the time of this passage, Forrest is in his late 30’s, has an IQ of less than 75, a white man born and raised in Greenbow, Alabama by a single mom. He grew up with racial segregation, went to the University of Alabama during desegregation, met Elvis, John Lennon, and 3 different presidents, one of whom he mooned. Forrest was a Vietnam war veteran, a medal of honor winner, a ping pong champion, became a commercial shrimper out of loyalty to his friend Bubba, was the father of an 8 year old son, had married Jenny, the love of his life, and buried her 6 months later.
On his first day of school, Forrest boards a school bus full of strangers, wearing shorts and metal leg braces, looking for a place to sit. He hears the constant refrain “this seat is taken”….taken….you can’t sit here…..” until Jenny’s lone voice speaks up “You can sit here if you want.” That one simple act, of seemingly no consequence, initiated a series of life altering events for Forrest and Jenny. Such a simple act… In the grand scheme of things, the slight change to the prevailing breeze is imperceptible at first. ..but what a change it made to both Forrest and Jenny. Forrest Gump goes through life with a blunt honesty to everyone he meets that catches us off guard. Jenny is a victim of a sexually abusive father, filled with empathy for others. As a child she wants nothing more than to be covered in feathers so her prayer can be answered. “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away.” Years later, at another bus stop, the story ends as the feather slips from the pages of Curious George, lands in the grass and a breeze come and lifts it skyward.
“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both, maybe both happening at the same time.”
I think Forrest got it right. I like the imagery that each of is a feather, each of us carried by the prevailing wind of our creation or the Holy Spirit. Yet, on our life journey, we have countless encounters with other feathers. From our vantage point, each encounter appears to be random and “accidental-like”.
As feathers, our movement on the breeze creates trailing eddies and currents that can alter the path of those feathers around us. No touching is needed. Mere proximity on our journey may alter and influence those feathers around us. A smile versus a frown, a sincere hello vs. being too busy to acknowledge another. Do I stop for this stranger carrying a gas can down the interstate, or do I keep going? We may rarely see the results of these seemingly smallest of actions, but the consequences can be life changing.
You can sit here if you want….
No matter where the winds may take us, each of us can minister to a weary world. Let us go forth and live lives that make this world more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace.
Beautiful sentiment. I love the movie Forrest Gump – it has so many connections to real life and at the same time allows us to escape to another place and time. Also, it’s a very entertaining and timeless movie! I think we are all floating around accidental-like, with opportunities to cross each others’ paths (in my sister’s words) “accidentally on purpose.” Thanks again Ben! Your work is also very beautiful.
Harry Shucker says
Hi Ben, thanks so much for sharing this with us. Quite ironically, I gave a presentation in the ‘What Really Matters” lecture series at Furman just prior to my retirement. I used the same allegory that you did regarding the seemingly random opportunities in our life to do make a positive difference in the lives of others. The question of the feather and the artful way it was blown by the wind as was Forest’s life leads me to believe that we are all given opportunities that are less than coincidental at times. It is whether we truly see what is coincidental and what is not. Thanks so much for sharing my friend and Happy Easter.
Peggy Paul says
I love this!! So meaningful. Another reminder that how we live our lives really matters.
Earl Leininger says
Hey, Ben. Long, long time since we’ve seen each other. I had not been acquainted with your blog site–and I’ll explain in a minute–but this is an excellent and wonderfully creative post and I’m glad I got to read it! Long story (sort of) short, Marc sent the link to this post to Stephanie McLeskey, campus minister at MHU, and for reasons I won’t go into, she sent it to me. I have made reference to it in a post coming up on my blog site and I have included the link in the endnotes to my post. I wanted you to know that just in case you would prefer I not do that. If so, please let me know. I’ll be posting my blog this weekend. Meanwhile, the link to my blog site is as follows, in case you want to have a look: https://eleininger.com