Papillon

When I was a young boy, back in the late ‘70s, I would sometimes get to stay up late and watch television with my grandfather.  I was seven or eight years old, so staying up late for me might not have been as late as I’ve pictured it in my mind all these years.  The two-car garage had been converted to a den many years before.  It was large room with a couch, two recliners, an antique rocking chair, liquor cabinet, and a safe hidden in the wall above the two recliners.  The safe had a picture frame cover, but to my knowledge, never had a picture in it.  I have some wonderful memories from my childhood of that house, specifically that room. 

We watched many episodes of Baa Baa Black Sheep, sports, news, and sometimes he’d give up his rights to the television and we’d watch Wonderful World of Disney.  Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was always a favorite.  But one movie we stayed up late to watch one night that has been stuck in my head for more than 40 years was Papillon.  Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, 1973.  Maybe because it was supposedly based on a true story and, as a child, I found that fascinating.  A true story of a French prison and how the convicted survived and one eventually escaped to write about it.  For whatever reason, I loved that movie.  I don’t think I’ve seen it since I was eight or nine years old. 

Grandpa would sit in his recliner smoking a pipe or cigar.  I would be laid out on the couch, often times falling asleep during our TV time.  I remember grandma occasionally sitting in her recliner crocheting.  I don’t remember if she was interested in what we were watching, unless it was basketball.  She was a huge basketball fan.  She played in her younger years, I heard she was very good. 

The reason for this flood of childhood memories is that I recently found Papillon in the free On-demand section of my cable subscription.  Just seeing the title brought back details of my grandparent’s den.  The lighting, the smell of pipe tobacco, the texture of the carpet, the sliding glass door that lead to the driveway, the utility room where the washer and dryer sat, the rear door which exited to the back patio and wonderful back yard.  And of course, the shows we used to watch.  I wonder where the old rocking chair is.  I would have loved to have that. 

I made some pizza rolls and opened a beer.  Then I started the movie.  Some of what I remember from it 40+ years ago was exactly correct.  But that wasn’t very much.  I only remembered parts of a few of the scenes.  Watching it again brought a whole new appreciation for an absolutely spectacular movie.  McQueen and Hoffman were incredible.  They made their characters seem real, believable.  No special effects, no computer-generated imaging.  Just great actors perfecting their craft; something that has been lost in film today. 

In watching Papillon in present day, I am certain the movie was edited for television when I watched it with grandpa way back when. 

One of the scenes I remember visually, I had no recollection of the context because I couldn’t remember what was said.  It was a dream sequence where Papillon (McQueen) walks towards his judge.  The judge was flanked on each side by six men wearing black.  In their exchange, Papillon continues to claim he was framed for his accused crime of murder.  The judge admits that to be true, but adds that he is in fact guilty of a far worse crime, the worst crime any human can commit. Papillon asks what that could be.  The judge says, “I accuse you of a wasted life!”  Papillon agrees, hangs his head, then walks away.

I would have been too young to understand the context of that conversation at the time, perhaps that’s why I don’t remember it.  But now, nearing 50 years old, that spoke to me as I watched again.  I know I’ve wasted time.  I’ve wasted money.  I’ve wasted food, words, energy, and so much more if I am completely honest examining my past.  But one thing I am certain of, I can never be accused of a wasted life.  There are many things I should have done differently in my life.  There are things I regret, both things I did and things I didn’t do.  But as I look back and see where I am today, what I’ve survived, what I’ve overcome, I say confidently, that mine is not a wasted life. 

Only you can examine your life and decide if you wasted it.  Only you know exactly what you’ve been through and how you got to where you are currently.  Your mistakes do not define you.  At some point you move on from them and, if necessary, start over.  Some of my mistakes consumed me to the point of feeling like a failure, like a complete waste.  There were multiple occasions in my life I would have hung my head and walked away as Papillon did.  Not anymore. 

Life goes on.  And life is good.  And I’m not wasting it.  I hope you don’t either.  Thanks for stopping by today.  Good day, God bless.

Dave

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