Thank you, Tom Hanks, or how a movie can save a life

I’ve thought about this off and on for years, about sending a letter to Tom Hanks thanking him for making the movie “Forrest Gump”, but I’ve never actually done it.  After a very long day today, and a couple of margaritas, I decided to make this post instead.  This is the official Thank You, Tom Hanks, for saving my life.

Most readers right now are probably thinking WTF?  You either love Forrest Gump or hate it–there doesn’t seem to be any in between.  Personally I love the movie, but not for the usual reasons.  This movie saved my life, literally.

Although the movie came out in 1994, I didn’t see it until the early part of 1999.  Many things had happened to me between 1994 and 1999–going through a non-amicable divorce, raising a young child alone, finding a love of my life, having him diagnosed with cancer, journeying through 18 months of illness before burying him in 1998, then dealing with that loss along with the usual stressors of everyday life, a single mom trying to make ends meet while raising a munchkin.  The stress of those events was devastating, so much so I didn’t realize how bad it was.

Time for confession here, I guess.  I was suicidal, but didn’t realize it completely.  Sounds stupid, right?  The burden of trying to pay the bills, raising a child, dealing with being alone, the silence that results when your other half is no longer with you…it’s overwhelming.  The weight of it all was crippling.  It wasn’t like I was thinking ‘I can’t take it anymore, I’ll swallow a bottle of pills’ or whatever.  It wasn’t that obvious.  I’d do a load of laundry, put the clothes on hangers and carry them into the closet.  After hanging them up I’d look up at the small gun safe I had on the top shelf, and the thought would enter my head, it would be so easy, I wouldn’t have to deal with any of it anymore, just get the gun out, hold it up…pull the trigger.  I’d push that thought away, thinking I’m not that desperate yet, and go on with my day.

It went on for a while like that.  Then it changed.  When I’d go in the closet to put the clothes up, the urge to just hold the gun, to touch it would be almost overwhelming.  I needed to touch it, to feel it.  I actually got it out one time just to hold it in my hands.  The feeling was weird.  The only way to describe it would be if you’re a smoker, and for whatever reason hadn’t smoked in a little while, then finally picked up a cigarette, lit it and inhaled.  That first hit, that relief, that’s what it felt like to hold it.  I was too far down in the grief and stress to realize the significance, the danger.  Sometimes you’re so busy paddling trying to keep your head above water, you don’t realize you’re drowning.

The turning point came in early 1999.  I don’t remember whether I rented the movie, or it was playing on television, but it was one or the other.  The munchkin was asleep and I was lying in bed watching the movie.  The pivotal moment was after Jenny died.  It was in the scene where Forrest Gump (Hanks) talks to Jenny, who is buried beneath their favorite old tree.   He tells Jenny about his life with their young son, the things they do together and the things he’s done since her death. At the end he places an unopened letter from their son on her grave and tells her, “If there’s anything you need, I won’t be far away.”

When he put that letter on her grave, it was like a lightning bolt hit me, a literal huge electric shock radiating through my entire body as if I had taken a bobby pin and stuck it in an electric outlet.  The instantaneous thought was ‘oh my God, I can’t do that to my son!’  The thought of him writing a letter to me after I was dead, and someone placing that letter on my grave…that was the catalyst that turned me around 180 degrees.  Ever since that moment, I have never had the urge to touch a gun in that manner again, or felt the weight of problems was so heavy I couldn’t handle it.

If I hadn’t seen the movie Forrest Gump, I don’t think I’d be here writing this.  It was a very strange experience overall, but I know with 100 percent certainty that that one scene in Forrest Gump saved my life.  It shocked me out of that dark corner I was in, the spot that was getting smaller and smaller, shrinking so tight to the point I felt I couldn’t breathe.  It made me focus back on the importance of my child, putting him back in that number one spot in my head where he should have been all along.  It ripped those blinders away and helped me see the big picture once again.

I can honestly say because of Tom Hanks, because of the role of Forrest Gump, I’m still here.  I raised my little son into a wonderful young man, I met and married my sweet, loving husband, and was blessed with the miracle of giving birth to a beautiful daughter.  Everyday problems still pop up, as in the normal course of life, but I haven’t lost sight of all the blessings that have been bestowed on me, of all the things I am so very thankful for.

And I owe it all to one moment in time…to Tom Hanks and Forrest Gump.  All I can say is thank you, from the bottom of my heart and soul.

Yes, a movie can save your life.  Who would have ever thought?

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One thought on “Thank you, Tom Hanks, or how a movie can save a life

  1. Ya know, I think you should send a copy of this to Tom Hanks. I’m betting he’d be thrilled to know that his work had caused such an epiphany for you, and turned your life around for the better. Seriously. I can help you look for his address if you’d like…

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