Keep Breathing or The Tom Hanks Coping Mechanism

Back in the days when movie reviews were still found mostly read in newspapers and the Internet was still suffering through the Dial Up Days, I reviewed movies with my best friend, Bart. It was a great gig for a high schooler to have and it was part of the reason I eventually decided to pursue film and television as a career.


Of course, running the awkward pic from when you were 16 every week had its advantages and disadvantages.

We got some reviews right and applauded great films. Others we overzealously supported or trashed, only to realize in the ensuing weeks/months/years/decades that we had greatly overlooked a movie’s flaws or beauty.


We sat through this crapfest so that some poor unsuspecting soul didn’t have to. No retroactive good feelings here.

One movie reassured us early on that we weren’t going to spend two years sitting through every cocaine-binge-birthed abomination. It came around our fourth month of reviews and ironically, featured the smallest cast of featured actors we’d see during our tenure on the Asbury Park Press’s “Reel Deal” column.


Can you count Wilson as a cast member? He DOES have more acting ability than any Kardashian I’ve heard of…

Cast Away was a surprisingly good film for one I originally scoffed at as “Survivor with Forrest Gump”. I should have known to doubt Tom Hanks’ ability to do pretty much anything (the guy’s my favorite actor so why I doubted his ability to make a volleyball seem essential is beyond me now). Its soothing soundtrack of ocean waves and pretty much nothing else made the movie feel almost like a meditation exercise. Its theme of survival though, has been one I’ve revisited many times over the years. Sometimes for seemingly essential things like getting through a 20 credit semester (ah, the days when THAT seemed like life or death) to getting through night classes for alternate route teaching (I was ready to try the Cast Away Emergency Dental Strategy in class just to go home early).

Despite having an insane number of movies on DVD and BluRay, this one escapes me. I don’t know why. I think I taped it when I was in college briefly, but if I did, I never replaced it. Due to its popularity on cable, it pops up often enough that I know I can see it if I need it.

Last night, I think I needed Cast Away. In particular, the final monologue that Tom’s character Chuck Noland delivers after receiving some devastating news. I won’t spoil the movie completely (16 year old spoilers…wow, that makes me feel old…). What it comes down to is this: Chuck survives on an island despite the odds dictating he should die alone and undiscovered. But when he comes home, life has changed so dramatically, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. The simple things, like ice in his glass, seem amazing to him. He sees Bic lighters and light switches as seemingly alien concepts after going without for so long. All he can do, he says, is keep breathing. Who knows what the tide will bring? Because when he thought all was lost, the tide gave him a sail.

I spent 8 seemingly endless days and nights in two hospitals, and that is nothing compared to some of the people I know I shared a floor with. I know how lucky I am compared others with the same condition I’ve got. I also know that I would have given up my entire comic book collection for a glass of ice water after my transesophageal echocardiogram (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s when they stick a camera down your throat). I was fully prepared to sacrifice all of my film equipment to be able to go to the bathroom without needing to call for help. Hell, the first night home, it took a minute for me to realize I could turn the light off myself rather than be forced to wait for someone to return from visiting other rooms.

My wedding is in 40 days. My fiancee’s shower was over the weekend. I got to see a lot of my relatives who seemed quite relieved to see me upright and cracking jokes and smiling. Most hours of the day and night, that’s me. I got my legs back under me after a couple of days in the step down unit at UPenn. My breathing has improved, even if I am still frustratingly unable to do multiple trips up and down the stairs without feeling winded. This past week I helped plan our ceremony, figured out groomsmen gifts, aided with decorations and even bought my wedding band. Happy to report it looks kinda like this:


Traits like the Ability To Disappear and Rune-Based Language Revealed By Fire have not yet been tested. YET.


Why can’t I shake this need to do more? Everyone tells me to slow down, to take it easy. At the same time, I know that any hope I had of being the 100-year old grandfather who can talk about life at the turn of the millenium went out the window the moment they said aortic dissection. I’ve got a lifelong battle with blood pressure ahead and it’s not going to suddenly get easier.

That gives me X number of years, minus however are subtracted due to whatever is causing/has caused the other dissections in the first place. The fear that a fourth one could just show up at any moment is more than a little nerve-wracking. I’ve got a stack of half-finished scripts, a series of books to write, students¬†I want to see go on to win Oscars, and personal goals I just need to see through, like reading the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes or the total works of William Shakespeare or riding a bike across the state.

Not to mention I really want to have kids of my own. I don’t know when that became such a priority to me, but somewhere along the way, I decided I needed to be a dad.

Oh, I really hope this is going to be one of those writing projects I can look back on ten years from now and say, ‘Ha! Remember when that seemed like it was going to change everything? How there was no way that could work out?’ It would be lovely if that’s the case, because I’m hoping that by that point, I’ll be re-reading this with a child or two of my own sitting nearby.


Okay, we’re in Deep Feelings Territory, so I’m going all-in.¬†

Hey, at least Harry’s scar was in a cool shape…

Then again, mine doesn’t have some kind of former association with an evil dictator’s shattered soul.

I’m tempted to make a Donald Trump-Horcrux joke here, considering I was in the hospital right before the debates, but I’ll let that one pass. Too easy.

So it goes…

I’ve got an appointment with the pulmonologist as this is posting (yep, writing this in the past to post in the future- Great Scott!) (more like, Great, Scott, Now Go Write Something Off Your To Do List). Therapy to shrink this watermelon of a head down a little on Tuesday. Primary care physician on Friday. At some point, I’ve gotta find out if alcohol with that dissection is going to be an issue as it’s right near the artery to my liver, and I don’t want to keel over after the toast at the wedding.

I’ve gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

Until next time,

Chuck Noland’s Monologue, Cast Away



One comment

  1. Bart · October 3, 2016

    Wilson! Wiiiiiilsooooooon!

    Glad to see you’re writing this – will definitely be following this as you keep posting.


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