If you’ve seen the movie, “Forrest Gump,” please raise your hand.
Just as I thought, practically everybody.
And what was the take away lesson of that film?
Does all of those raised hands going back down mean that no one really knows exactly, except that SOMETHING about it made for one hell of an entertaining and uplifting experience?
I’m in the special position of having a much closer than average relationship with the lesson of the Forrest Gump story because my Dad, G.W. Smith, was for all practical purposes Forrest Gump himself.
If I wrote the story of his life, 99.9 % of the people who read it would think me a straight up liar. One guy just could not have been through that many historically significant events, except that G.W. did.
For example, one of Dad’s experiences was that in the closing days of preparation to setting off the first atomic bomb he was Robert Oppenheimer’s driver, body guard, and baby sitter. He even helped transport the atomic firing device to Trinity Site.
Another adventure played out in the rubble of Berlin during Allied occupation. The OSS had caught G.W. smuggling contraband on his aircraft during the Berlin Airlift and gave him the choice between a Court Martial or becoming an agent to infiltrate the inner circle of the black market ring he had been selling the cigs, whiskey, chocolate and butter to. Consequently Dad captured the Nazi War criminal the OSS was after who ran the operation. On other occasions he performed comparable “errands” for Curtis LeMay, Douglas MacArthur, and Wild Bill Donovan. As a pilot G.W. Smith logged 15,000 hours during and after WW II, including a few minutes leading a flight of B-25’s UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge (Maybe you’ve seen the famous photograph.) He called himself a lover, not a fighter, but the only fight he ever lost was that final one with pancreatic cancer in 1991.
Up until then G.W. Smith survived so many deadly encounters of every description (guns, knives, fists, crash landings, aerial combat, Nazi assassins, IRA terrorists, Japanese terror squad … and more) that the highest levels of command ( who tend to be a surprisingly superstitious bunch) must have reckoned he was charmed in some way, unkillable, and so assigned him missions where danger was high, success improbable, and failure totally unacceptable. [Side Note: There’s an outside chance, though undocumented, that Adlai Stevenson had a hand in some of these remarkable assignments because Stevenson and Dad’s father were lifelong friends starting from when Grandad practiced law in Bloomington, Illinois in the 1930’s]
Lest you think my father was some adrenaline addicted sociopath , let me tell you that I never saw him bully anyone, strike or threaten a woman or child, or pick a fight. In daily life he was PEACEFUL. He avoided conflict whenever possible, but had an uncanny ability to perceive when friendly time was over. Personality wise he was actually rather kind and childlike, had lots of friends, and could be so moxy one minute and gullible the next that it made you want to slap your forehead.
Like I said, Forrest Gump, but in real life, not cinema fiction.
So, back to the take away lesson of the movie. It’s simply this : we see in Forrest Gump a reflection of ourselves: unwitting idiot savants, doing the best we can with the pathetically little that we’ve got . We are all witness/participant/victim/beneficiary to the vagaries of history, physics, and sheer dumb luck. The reason everybody likes Forest Gump is that to one degree or another everybody is Forest Gump, the quintessential human being.
Run, Forest, Run! Except when you can’t. Then, you just make your stand and do the best you can with what you got.